In the seventh inning of a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox on September 27, 1928, the Athletics’ Lefty Grove struck out Moe Berg, Tommy Thomas, and Johnny Mostil using only the minimum of nine pitches.
It would be 9,112 days, just under 25 years, before another pristine entry was released. Though that one, courtesy of Billy Hoeft of the Detroit Tigers in 1953, also came against the White Sox.
If you thought fate was conspiring against the White Sox for that, consider what happened to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
In the second inning of a game between the Houston Astros and the Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Astros right-hander Luis Garcia recorded an immaculate inning by striking out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller with only nine pitches. Five innings later, Phil Maton, a right-handed reliever for the Astros, did the exact same thing, as he faced the same three batters. They were the 106th and 107th clean innings in Major League history.
The Astros won, 9-2, as the Rangers tried to figure out what hit them.
“Obviously we knew they sailed pretty well,” Miller said of Garcia and Maton. “I wish I had taken better swings, and he wishes they hadn’t.”
Martin Maldonado, the Houston catcher, told reporters he couldn’t remember being part of a pristine inning at any level, let alone two in the same game.
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“Relax, okay? Don’t try to strike out everyone. Punches are boring! Besides that, they are fascists. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic.”
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“To be a part of that, every time you make history, I’m glad I was a catcher in that situation,” he said.
The two immaculate innings was a mind-boggling occurrence in multiple ways, as it was not only the first time the feat had occurred against the same three batters, it was the first time two such innings had been pitched on the same date, and much less. in the same game.
Against Garcia, Rangers hitters managed to foul out on five of their nine pitches. Two of the batters swung and missed the third strike, while one went down on a foul tip caught by Maldonado. Maton was slightly more dominant, with batters fouling on just three pitches, with outs recorded on a foul tip, a called strike and a swinging strike.
In a fun twist, Garcia kept things going briefly in the third inning by striking out Leody Taveras on three pitches. That gave him a remarkable four strikeouts on 12 pitches.
While still rare, immaculate innings, like no-hitters and strikeouts in general, have become much more common thanks to the all-or-nothing approach of modern hitters and pitchers.
Between 1876 and 1921, there were only three recorded cases of an immaculate entrance. By the 1920s there were five, the Grove being the last. There were none in the 1930s or 1940s and while there were a handful each in the following decades, things took a notable turn with 17 in the 1990s and 14 in the 2000s.
The pitchers, it seemed, were just getting started. There were 37 clean innings in the 2010s and the 2020s have already had nine even though the pandemic cut the 2020 regular season down to 60 games from 162, and 2022 is in only its third month.
Unless there is a major change in the strategy of hitters and pitchers, the feat should remain a semi-regular occurrence. But for it to happen twice in one game, against the same three batters, is rare enough that it will stand out for decades to come.
“That feels so good. It’s history,” Garcia told reporters. “I am so happy for myself and for Phil. I don’t know what to say I’m just happy.”