By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After enjoying a celebratory dinner at Littlejohn’s with his parents and several teammates, Will Roberts had time to reflect Tuesday night. Later he would head over to some friends’ apartment to watch ESPN, but for the moment, Roberts was alone.
“I went back to my apartment and just kind of sat on my bed for 10, 15 minutes, to just let it sink in a little bit,” he said the next morning.
It may take Roberts a while longer to fully appreciate the enormity of his accomplishment. On Tuesday night, the 6-4, 205-pound right-hander became the first baseball player in UVa history to throw a perfect game.
A crowd of 2,078 witnessed Roberts’ tour de force at Davenport Field. He needed only 98 pitches to record 27 consecutive outs in top-ranked UVa’s 2-0 win over George Washington. Roberts, a junior who before Tuesday had never pitched more than 7.2 innings in a college game, matched his career high with 10 strikeouts.
“The kid has worked so hard in his career, and he’s just having a fantastic season,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said Wednesday.
Since 1957, only seven other pitchers have recorded nine-inning perfect games in NCAA Division I baseball. Roberts is the first to do so since 2002, and his feat launched a barrage of congratulatory texts, e-mails and phone calls.
“People are kind of coming out of the woodwork,” he said, “but it’s pretty cool, just to hear from people that I haven’t heard from for a while.”
Had he previously thrown a perfect game, or even a no-hitter?
“I don’t think so,” said Roberts, a graduate of the Maggie Walker Governor’s School in Richmond. “Maybe when I was real young, but I don’t remember a game going past, like, the fourth inning without giving up a hit or a walk.”
Roberts, an economics major, lives with another UVa pitcher, Justin Thompson, and Tyler Wagner. When SportsCenter came on Tuesday night, they were part of a large crew gathered in the apartment shared by UVa players Danny Hultzen, Chad O’Connor, Scott Silverstein and Jared King.
The ‘Hoos watched intently to see if ESPN’s top 10 plays from Tuesday would include Roberts’ perfect game.
“And then when it came up No. 1, the place went nuts,” Roberts said. “It was pretty cool.”
After the game, his teammates had lifted him on their shoulders. During the game, however, they kept their distance from Roberts, not wanting to break his rhythm. So did UVa’s coaches.
“Nobody was saying anything,” Roberts said. “I didn’t talk to anybody or make eye contact with anybody.”
In the eighth inning, GW’s Tyler McCarthy smashed the ball back to the mound. It hit Roberts’ left leg and bounced away. He collected himself, picked up the ball and threw to first for the out.
“Once that happened, I was like, ‘Something special’s about to happen,’ ” Roberts said.
The game ended on a grounder to second baseman Keith Werman, who threw to first for the final out. Werman finished with two putouts and seven assists.
“It did happen pretty quickly, but once I saw the ball was going to Werm, I knew that we had it,” Roberts said Wednesday. “He made so many plays for me last night.”
The no-hitter was the first by a Cavalier since Mike Ballard (versus Boston College) in 2006. Roberts’ gem raised his record to 5-0 this season and lowered his earned-run average to 1.13. UVa improves to 25-2.
In 39.2 innings this season, Roberts, one of Virginia’s midweek starters, has struck out 41 batters and walked only three. Opponents are hitting .188 against him.
“I think physically and mentally I’m a completely different person than I was on the mound one year ago today,” Roberts said.
After a strong freshman season in which he walked only 12 batters in 37 innings, with two wild pitches, Roberts was not as effective as a sophomore. He walked 20 in 30.2 innings and threw six wild pitches. His record was 3-0 — Roberts went 4-0 in 2009 — but batters hit .278 against him.
The Wahoos’ 2010 season ended with a loss to Oklahoma in the final game of their best-of-three NCAA super regional at Davenport Field. O’Connor used eight pitchers in that series. Roberts was not one of them.
“Not being in the mix near the end of the year was kind of tough for me, and I knew going into this year that I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Roberts said.
He played in the Cape Cod League last summer, for the Bourne Braves, and returned to school better for the experience.
“Definitely,” Roberts said. “I played with the best of the best up there. I had some guys on my team that are going to be high draft picks, and I kind of just picked up little things from one or two guys. I saw how they prepared themselves and the grips on the pitches, little things that are kind of taken for granted, but once you’re around guys that are of that level, you want to pay attention and see what they’re doing, so maybe you can do the same thing. I think that’s been a huge thing for me.”
Roberts stood out in fall ball at UVa, and nothing changed once the season started.
“I just think he’s pitching with a lot more confidence,” O’Connor said. “He’s attacking the batter. His velocity is better consistently. All of his pitches are better.”
Roberts realized early in Tuesday’s game that “something cool was going on,” as he put it, and he was determined “to do whatever it took to keep it going and see it through.”
With help from his teammates, on whom he lavished praise afterward, Roberts joined an elite group of college pitchers. The final out set off a wild scene at Davenport, and Roberts’ postgame interviews seemed to last as long as the game itself. Then came time with family and friends.
When Roberts finally got to bed, it was around 3 a.m. Wednesday. Five hours later he was up, with more interview requests to fulfill from media outlets around the region. Forgive him if his head is still spinning.
“I’m not sure it’s sunk in just yet, actually, what happened,” Roberts said.