In the seventh inning of a game between the Philadelphia Athletics and the Chicago White Sox on September 27, 1928, Lefty Grove of the Athletics knocked out Moe Berg, Tommy Thomas, and Johnny Mostil using only the minimum nine pitches.
It would take 9,112 days – just under 25 years – before another supposedly pristine innings were launched. Although this one, courtesy of Billy Hoeft of the Detroit Tigers in 1953, also came against the White Sox.
If you thought fate conspired against the White Sox because of this, think about what happened to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
In the second inning of a game between the Houston Astros and Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, Astros right-hander Luis Garcia recorded a clean inning by striking out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller with only nine throws. Five innings later, Phil Maton, an Astros right-handed reliever, did the exact same thing — against the same three batters. It was the cleanest 106th and 107th innings in major league history.
The Astros won, 9-2, as the Rangers tried to figure out what hit them.
“We obviously knew they were sailing pretty well,” Miller said of Garcia and Maton. “I wish I had taken better swings and I wish they hadn’t figured it out.”
Houston wide receiver Martín Maldonado told reporters he couldn’t remember ever being part of a clean inning at any level, let alone two in the same game.
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“Relax, okay? Don’t try to hit everyone. Withdrawals are boring! Besides that, they are fascists. Throw balls on the ground, it’s more democratic.
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“To be a part of that, every time you go down in history – I’m glad I got caught up in that,” he said.
The two immaculate innings were a mind-blowing event in many ways, as not only was it the first time the feat had occurred against the same three batters, it was the first time two such innings had been pitched at the same date, let alone in the same game.
Against Garcia, the Rangers hitters managed to foul on five of his nine pitches. Two of the batters swung and missed hit three while another fell on a bad pass caught by Maldonado. Maton was slightly more dominant, with the batters faulting just one on three pitches, with outs recorded on a foul, a called strike and a swing strike.
In a fun twist, Garcia briefly kept things going in the third inning by knocking out Leody Taveras on three pitches. It gave him a remarkable four strikeouts on 12 pitches.
Although still rare, the clean inning, like no-hitters and strikeouts in general, has become much more common due to the all-or-nothing approach of modern hitters and pitchers.
Between 1876 and 1921, there were only three recorded instances of a flawless inning. By the 1920s there were five, Grove being the last. There were none in the 1930s or 1940s and while the following decades saw a handful each, things took a noticeable turn with 17 in the 1990s and 14 in the 2000s.
The pitchers, it seems, were just getting started. There have been 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 only in its third month.
Barring a major change in strategy by hitters and pitchers, the feat should continue to be a semi-regular event. But for it to happen twice in a game, against the same three batters, is just weird enough to stand out for decades.
“It feels so good. It’s history,” Garcia told reporters. “I’m so happy for myself and for Phil. I do not know what to say. I’m just happy.”