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What is an Immaculate Inning in Baseball? (Pitch Perfect)

immaculate inning

As baseball fans, we're always on the lookout for those rare and exciting moments that make the game so thrilling.

We’re especially left in awe when we witness a triple play, grand slam or a no-hitter.  

But have you ever heard of an immaculate inning?

Despite its name, the term doesn't refer to a holy or divine event on the baseball diamond. 

In fact, it's a feat accomplished by a pitcher that's just as impressive as a perfect game, but perhaps not as well-known.

It is also commonly known as a 9-pitch inning.

Let's explore this exciting aspect of America's favorite pastime.

What is an Immaculate Inning in Baseball?

In baseball, an immaculate inning is a rare feat in which a pitcher strikes out all three batters in a half-inning of baseball using only nine pitches. The term "immaculate" refers to the idea of flawlessness, as the pitcher has retired all batters faced with the minimum number of pitches possible without them ever hitting the ball.

Note that the immaculate inning doesn’t necessarily result only from strikes where the batter whiffs while swinging or is caught looking.

These batters make part of history even if they were to hit a foul ball during those 9 pitches on the inning.

As a note, while an immaculate inning would seem like short work from the pitcher, there is always the possibility of a 3-pitch inning.

In such a scenario, the batters would all hit the ball off the first pitch, but each resulting in an out.

These outs can stem from a ground ball, line drive or pop fly.

Lastly, a pitcher will be credited with an immaculate inning should they come in as a reliever mid-inning and throw their 9-pitches. 

The feat is recognized regardless of what happened in the inning prior to their insertion.

Meaning, that even if there are already runners on base, their ability to pitch an immaculate inning is not compromised.

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How rare is an Immaculate Inning?

In Major League Baseball, there have been 112 immaculate innings recorded to date.

That is less than one per season on average considering the league has been in existence since 1876. 

But since the early 1990s, the immaculate inning has made a resurgence. 

Some of those seasons would see more than one occurrence. 

In 2017 alone, there were eight pitched immaculate innings.

And since 2020, there were 10 more immaculate innings recorded to the all-time totals.

Just based on the abundance, it’s clear that pitchers have perfected the art of pitching.

I believe pitching reached its all-time peak when both Phil Maton and Luis Garcia of the Houston Astros managed the immaculate inning in a game on June 15, 2022. 

That’s one for the history books as it’s the first time two 9-pitch innings were recorded in the same game.

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And as for the World Series, the immaculate inning has only been achieved once.

The pitcher who sits alone with this feat is Danny Jackson of the 1985 Kansas City Royals.

Down 3-1 in the series against the St-Louis Cardinals, Jackson pitched a complete game for the 6-1 win. 

The Royals would go on to upset the Cardinals in 7 games and capture the World Series title.

Who has Pitched the most Immaculate Innings?

There are only a handful of pitchers that managed to throw more than one 9-pitch inning in their career. 

That count is exactly seven pitchers with 3 having achieved the feat three times over their career.

Those three pitchers are none other than Sandy Koufax, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer.

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If the last two names seem most familiar, it’s because they are active players in Major League Baseball.

Koufax is a hall-of-famer along with the other retired players on the multi-count list. 

The active pitchers have joined the ranks with some of baseball’s legends.

List of Pitchers with 2 or more Immaculate Innings

Player NameImmaculate Innings
1Sandy Koufax3
2Chris Sale3*
3 Max Scherzer3*
4Lefty Grove2
5Nolan Ryan2
6Randy Johnson2
7Kevin Gausman2*

For a full, updated and detailed list, make sure to check out the following link.

Final Thoughts

The immaculate inning is an impressive display of accuracy and skill, and only a handful of pitchers have accomplished this feat throughout the history of baseball. 

It is such an ambiguous milestone that even Kenley Jansen, closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers had never heard about it.

That is, of course, until he managed to throw his very own immaculate inning in 2017.

His exact response was: “I've been pitching seven or eight years, and I just [didn't] know what [an immaculate inning] is”, “But now I know, and it's awesome.”.

While the chance of witnessing an immaculate inning during a live game is relatively slim, your odds have improved these last few decades.

It will never garner the same attention as a grand slam or no-hitter. 

But you can make a splash by pointing it out to your friends just as it happens.