What is an Immaculate Inning in Baseball

Learn about one of baseball’s greatest accomplishments.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

An immaculate inning in baseball is when a pitcher throws nine consecutive strikes to complete the inning. It is an amazing feat and very rare. It is an incredible display of pitching skill and control. When it happens, it is definitely a memorable moment for fans and players alike. So what does it take to complete an immaculate inning? Let’s take a look.

KEY
POINTS
  • An immaculate inning is when a pitcher throws nine consecutive strikes to record three strikeouts in a half-inning.
  • The first recorded perfect frame was credited to Philadelphia Athletics left-hander Rube Waddell in 1902.
  • From 1929 to 1952, zero immaculate innings were pitched in the major leagues.
  • The most dominant form of an immaculate inning includes a pitcher tallying nine swings and misses.
  • It is called an immaculate inning because a hurler must pitch perfectly to post three strikeouts on nine pitches; the term was rarely used until it became more popularized in 2020.

Immaculate inning explained

An immaculate inning is a perfect frame in baseball that occurs when a pitcher strikes out three consecutive hitters on just nine pitches. Although immaculate innings have become more common in MLB, it remains one of the rarest feats in baseball. The evolution of one-inning specialists out of the bullpen has increased the number of immaculate innings since these modern-day relievers are responsible for only recording three outs.

The first immaculate inning took place in 1889, but the first recorded perfect frame was credited to Philadelphia Athletics left-hander Rube Waddell in 1902. From 1929 to 1952, zero immaculate innings were pitched in the major leagues.

What is an immaculate inning?

An immaculate inning is when a pitcher throws nine consecutive strikes to record three strikeouts in a half-inning. The inning starts and finishes with the pitcher and catcher enjoying a game of catch. Although there are several variations of immaculate innings, the most dominant form includes a pitcher tallying nine swings and misses.

Another impressive immaculate inning is when a relief pitcher is summoned to the mound with no outs and the bases loaded and proceeds to fan three hitters in a row on nine pitches.

Notable immaculate innings

1. 2022 Houston Astros: Two Immaculate Innings in One Game

The Astros’ Luis Garcia and Phil Maton both fanned three hitters on nine pitches to help Houston become the only team in MLB history to toss a pair of immaculate innings in the same game. Garcia and Maton also achieved the feat against the same hitters—Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran, and Brad Miller.

2. 2014 Tampa Bay Rays: The Ultimate Immaculate Inning

The Rays Brad Boxberger entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs. The right-hander threw nine consecutive strikes to end the scoreless inning with three strikeouts.

3. 1902 Philadelphia Athletics: The First Recorded Immaculate Inning

Southpaw Rube Waddell struck out a trio of Baltimore Orioles in the third frame on nine pitches to record the first official immaculate inning.

4. 1889 Boston Beaneaters: The First Immaculate Inning

John Clarkson fanned three Philadelphia Quakers hitters on nine pitches in the third frame to notch the first-ever immaculate inning.

Why is it called an immaculate inning?

It is called an immaculate inning because a hurler must pitch perfectly to post three strikeouts on nine pitches. The term was rarely used until it became more popular in 2020. There are significantly more immaculate innings thrown in MLB today than in the past because of the emergence of relief pitchers. Relievers whose only job is to pitch one inning has higher odds of throwing an immaculate inning. 

How rare is an immaculate inning?

An immaculate inning is rarer than a perfect game, according to baseball statistician Ryan Spaeder. In a 2018 research project, Spaeder noted that there were just 23 perfect games – or 0.0106%—out of over 216,000 games in baseball history. But there were just 91 immaculate innings, or 0.0045%, in roughly two million innings in baseball history.

How many immaculate innings have there been?

There have been 112 immaculate innings in baseball history as of September 27, 2022. Six pitchers threw an immaculate inning during the 2022 season, while a trio of hurlers (Sandy Koufax, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer) logged three immaculate innings. Four pitchers, including Nolan Ryan, Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, and Kevin Gausman, have thrown a pair of immaculate innings.

Who threw the first one?

Boston Beaneaters pitcher John Clarkson threw the first immaculate inning in a game against the Philadelphia Quakers in the third frame in 1889. But, Rube Waddell of the Philadelphia Athletics tossed the first official immaculate inning in an American League game in 1902. 

There were very few immaculate innings in the major leagues until the emergence of relief pitchers whose sole job was to record three outs. In the early days of baseball, it was not uncommon for starting pitchers to throw more than 200 pitches in a single outing.

Who threw the most recent?

Cleveland Guardians reliever Enyel De Los Santos threw the most recent immaculate inning on September 27, 2022, against the Tampa Bay Rays. The relief pitcher tossed one frame to post the fourth immaculate inning in franchise history.

Hayden Wesneski of the Chicago Cubs tossed an immaculate inning five days before De Los Santos’s perfect frame. The rookie hurler struck out three Pittsburgh Pirate hitters in the fifth inning on nine pitches.

Has any pitcher thrown an immaculate game?

No pitcher has ever thrown an immaculate game that would consist of 27 strikeouts and 81 pitches.

FAQ

Does a foul ball ruin an immaculate inning?

No, a foul ball does not ruin an immaculate inning. An immaculate inning can include foul balls if the pitcher throws nine pitches and strikes out three hitters.

Is an immaculate inning rarer than a perfect game?

Yes, an immaculate inning is rarer than a perfect game. A research project in 2018 by baseball statistician Ryan Spaeder determined that a perfect game occurred at a rate of 0.0106%, while an immaculate inning happened 0.0045% of the time.

Did Nolan Ryan pitch an immaculate inning?

Nolan Ryan pitched two immaculate innings during his career. He pitched his first immaculate inning while a member of the New York Mets and threw his second immaculate inning in 1972 against the Boston Red Sox when he fanned Carlton Fisk, Bob Burda, and Juan Beníquez.

112 immaculate innings in 132 years

An immaculate inning is one of the rarest feats in baseball. Still, the perfect inning occurs more often in MLB with hard-throwing relief pitchers with higher spin rates and detailed scouting reports on hitters. There have been 112 immaculate innings over the last 132 years, which averages less than one per season. 

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