Déjà vu in Texas as Astros pitchers toss two immaculate innings
By Benjamin Hoffman
In the seventh inning of a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 27, 1928, Lefty Grove of the Athletics struck out Moe Berg, Tommy Thomas and Johnny Mostil using only the minimum nine pitches.
It would be 9,112 days — just short of 25 years — before another so-called immaculate inning was thrown. Though that one, courtesy of Billy Hoeft of the Detroit Tigers in 1953, also came against the White Sox.
If you thought the fates were conspiring against the White Sox because of that, consider what happened to the Texas Rangers earlier this week.
In the second inning of a game between the Houston Astros and the Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday, Astros right-hander Luis García recorded an immaculate inning by striking out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Durán and Brad Miller with only nine pitches. Five innings later, Phil Maton, a right-handed reliever for the Astros, did the exact same thing — while facing the same three batters. They were the 106th and 107th immaculate innings in major league history.
The Astros went on to win, 9-2, as the Rangers tried to figure out what hit them.
“We obviously knew they were cruising pretty good,” Miller said of García and Maton. “I wish I would have taken some better swings, and wish they didn’t get it.”
Martín Maldonado, the Houston catcher, told reporters he could not recall having ever been part of an immaculate inning at any level, let alone two in the same game.
“To be part of that, anytime you make history — I’m glad I was catching in that situation,” he said.
The two immaculate innings was a mind-boggling occurrence in multiple ways, as not only was it the first time the feat had come against the same three batters, it was the first time two such innings had been pitched on the same date, let alone in the same game.
Against García, the Rangers batters managed to foul off five of his nine pitches. Two of the batters swung and missed for strike three while one went down on a foul tip caught by Maldonado. Maton was slightly more dominant, with the batters fouling off only three pitches, with the outs recorded on a foul tip, a called strike and a swinging strike.
While still rare, the immaculate inning — like no-hitters and strikeouts in general — has become far more common thanks to the all-or-nothing approach of modern hitters and pitchers.
Between 1876 and 1921, there were only three recorded instances of an immaculate inning. In the 1920s there were five, with Grove’s being the last. There weren’t any in the 1930s or the 1940s — and while the next few decades saw a handful each, things took a notable turn with 17 in the 1990s and 14 in the 2000s.
Pitchers, it seems, were just getting started. There were 37 immaculate innings in the 2010s and the 2020s have already had nine despite the pandemic reducing the 2020 regular season to 60 games from 162, and 2022 being in only its third month.
Barring a major change in strategy by hitters and pitchers, the feat should continue to be a semiregular occurrence. But having it happen twice in a game, against the same three batters, is just weird enough that it could stand out for decades to come.