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The Immaculate Inning

September 15, 2019

Hugh Atkins

This past Wednesday relief pitcher Chris Martin of the Atlanta Braves entered the game in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies and struck out the side on nine straight pitches. The term for this accomplishment is an Immaculate Inning. It may not seem like such a big deal, but since 1901, there have been only 98 Immaculate Innings; in that same span, there have been 260 no-hitters.

In 1902 Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics was the first pitcher to have an Immaculate Inning. Since then 89 other pitchers–56 in the National League and 36 in the American League–have done it. Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers did it three times. Lefty Grove of the Athletics, Nolan Ryan of the New York Mets and California Angels, Randy Johnson of the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals, Kevin Gausman of the Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, and Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox all did it twice. Ryan and Gausman are the only pitchers to have an Immaculate Inning in each league.

© T.C.G.

After Grove had his second Immaculate Inning on September 27, 1928, it would be almost 25 years before the next one when Billy Hoeft of the Detroit Tigers broke the dry spell on September 7, 1953. Grove had both of his Immaculate Innings in the same season (1928), and Sale has done it twice this season.

The list of pitchers with Immaculate Innings is full of flame throwers like Koufax, Ryan, Johnson, Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, and Craig Kimbrel.

Led by Koufax, the Dodgers have the most Immaculate Innings with eight. The New York Yankees and the Red Sox have the most in the AL with six each. Every team except the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers have at least one Immaculate Inning; neither iteration of the Washington Senators had one.

The Milwaukee Brewers are the only franchise to have Immaculate Innings in each league. Doug Jones did it in 1997 when the Brewers were still in the AL, and Ben Sheets (2004), Rick Helling (2006), Mike Fiers (2015), and Josh Hader (2019) did it after the Brewers moved to the NL. The Houston Astros/Colt .45s have had six pitchers with Immaculate Innings, but they all occurred before the Astros moved to the AL in 2013.
The Braves are the only franchise to have Immaculate Innings in three different hometowns. Joe Oeschger did it for the Boston Braves in 1921; Tony Cloninger did it for the Milwaukee Braves in 1963; and Joey McLaughlin (1979), Buddy Carlyle (2007), and Martin have done for the Atlanta Braves.

© T.C.G.

There have been 19 batters involved in two Immaculate Innings, including one member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Carlton Fisk was one of Ryan’s victims in 1972, and he also struck out against Ron Guidry of the Yankees in his Immaculate Inning. In 2002 Ichiro Suzuki, a certain future member of the Hall of Fame, struck out against Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox in his Immaculate Inning; in 2017 he struck out against Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers during his.

Strike outs are epidemic in baseball these days, so it should come as no surprise that there have been 19 Immaculate Innings in the last three seasons. The eight in 2017 are the most in a single season, but there have been seven this season. Fifty of the Immaculate Innings have occurred since 2001.

Finally, an Immaculate Inning is really impressive, but Bugs Bunny once struck out three batters on one pitch–his slowball. Not even the great Sandy Koufax ever did that.

(All statistics are from Baseball Almanac.)

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