Sean Kenny and Eric Milton saw it at the same time. Jimmy Reed's arrival, in their eyes, came on a crucial pitch in the ninth inning of Maryland's season-opener at UCLA.
The Terps had scored twice in the top of the ninth to take a 2-1 lead and suddenly create a save situation. Head coach Erik Bakich, who in the preseason said any of three guys could become the closer, made the call for Reed.
Reed struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches. The third pitch - which Bruins pinch-hitter Brian Carroll swung and missed on - got the attention of Milton, a Maryland assistant coach and 11-year Major League veteran.
"Milty was sitting next to me," said Kenny, Maryland's pitching coach. "And we all know what he did in the big leagues, and he just looks at me and says 'That's a slider. That's a real pitch.' That was the first time Milty had seen him with the lights on. When you have an 11-year Major League veteran sitting next to you going 'Whoa,' that's when you know this kid has figured it out."
Reed went on to strike out the side, getting the last batter of the game to swing and miss on all three pitches, to cement Maryland's first win in a season opener in 10 years.
"That," Kenny says, "was the eye-opening moment where it was like, 'This is his time."
"Only one time"
Reed arrived at Maryland standing 5-feet-9 and weighing 130 pounds. His fastball ran 80 to 84 MPH, and he possessed an average change-up and curveball.
As a freshman left-hander he made 15 appearances for a Maryland team that was in a transitional phase under Bakich, who was then in his first year. He had a 13.75 ERA, seeing time in some of the most hostile environments and against the best competition in the ACC. It was a spot that few freshmen see.
But that experience, along with another 22 appearances as a sophomore when Reed lowered his ERA to 4.86, was crucial to his development.
Through Maryland's strength and conditioning program over the last two seasons, Reed has bulked up to 163 pounds. With his added strength and emphasis on mechanical improvement in the offseason, Reed is now 88 to 91 with his fastball.
While it's typical to expect a pitcher to gain two to six miles an hour, gaining 10 is quite rare. Combine that with the fact Reed had a 13.75 ERA as a freshman and currently has a 0.48 mark as a junior, and it's an uncommon occurrence.
"I'm sure those stories exist, but they don't happen very often," said Bakich.
Kenny, who has coached 15 pitchers that have been drafted in the last eight years, can think of only one other time. Though Kenny describes Reed and former Pepperdine pitcher Nick Gaudi as "completely different guys - one is 6-foot-5 and right-handed; the other is 5-foot-9 and left-handed," the circumstances are the same.
Both were recruited, but came into their college careers with somewhat limited expectations. But what turned Gaudi into an eventual draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and what Kenny estimates will turn Reed into a pro, is work ethic and determination.
"All they did is come in and listen, work real hard and buy in," said Kenny. "Jimmy went from 80-84, to 84-86, to 86-88, and now 88-91. It was the same progression for both guys.
"I think of those two all the time; just completely in control of every situation. I almost feel like I have to fire Jimmy up sometimes because he's so in control, and I know at the end of the day he doesn't need it. There is no situation that is too big for him."
Making the Jump
Reed added a cutter midway through his sophomore season that has become his best pitch. His command of that pitch, along with a much-improved fastball, curveball and change-up, give him a four-pitch arsenal few closers possess.
That, combined with a fearless mound presence, has led him to seven saves and a 0.48 ERA in 18-2/3 innings of work. Opponents are hitting just .161 against him, and no team was able to score a run against him until his 13th appearance of the season.
It was the cutter, Kenny says, that has truly separated him. Reed is averaging 10.6 strikeouts per game and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 7.3-to-1, marks that are by far the best on the team.
His WHIP, a metric that divides a pitchers walks, hits and hit batsmen by innings pitched, is a microscopic 0.70. No other pitcher on the team is below 1.0.
Kenny, Bakich and Reed himself point to a number of reasons he's been able to make such a jump. He pitched in big spots and gained experience as a freshman. Adding 30 pounds to his frame certainly helped with velocity. Countless hours in the offseason spent tinkering with his command in summer league may have helped most, Reed says. The work Kenny put in showing him the cutter and improving his mechanics played a large role, Bakich says.
But in the end, Reed's makeup and willingness to dedicate himself to improving were the ultimate X-factors.
"Everybody asks me, 'What did you do, what did you do?' said Kenny. "I didn't do anything. I showed him a cutter, and he did it. He took whatever you threw at him and actually applied it."
In the ninth inning of a game against George Washington on March 20, a sick and weary Reed was imploring the coaching staff to put him in the game.
Maryland led 8-3 entering the ninth, but GW had cut the lead to 8-4 and loaded the bases with one out.
It was at that time the coaching staff decided they could wait no longer to insert Reed, who was far from at his best. He had come down with food poisoning days before, unable to eat anything for 72 hours and seven pounds lighter for his troubles.
Looking as if a stiff wind might blow him over, Reed came in and struck out the first batter he faced with three pitches. Though he allowed a single that would make it 8-6, and walked another to again load the bases, he recorded another strikeout to end the game.
"We almost had to tie him down on the mound," Bakich recalled. "He looked like he was wearing Tim Kiene's uniform. He had lost seven pounds. He clearly was in pain and struggling, but he didn't care. He was mad in fact that we didn't put him in the inning before."
It's situations like those that have led his teammates and coaches to call him gutsy, ultra-competitive and fearless. He has always been that way, they say, but his rare work ethic and determination has paved the way for a progression that is truly uncommon.
"I think the makeup was always there to be what he is now," said Kenny. "But now the tools have matched his makeup."