Time for everyone’s favorite Fermi question: What are the chances that two immaculate innings would be thrown in the same game, by the same team, striking out the same three batters?
In Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, Luis Garcia and Phil Maton both struck out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Durán, and Brad Miller (or Bamboo Brad, as he’s known here in Philly) on three pitches each, five innings apart. Both Astros pitchers are having reasonably good if unremarkable seasons with varying levels of sustainability, but the immaculate inning cares not.
What Garcia and Maton accomplished is the first time that two immaculate innings have ever happened in the same game in major-league history alone, so as of this morning, the odds are one in 4,130,151 (or 4,149,631, if you feel strongly that the National Association counts as a major league). Not that it makes too much sense to put an exact number on such a singular event, because the “one” will stay the same for a long while and the “4,130,151” will tick up in the time between this blog is written and published. Regardless of the denominator, we can just say that the limit of 1 over a very large number approaches zero.
And it will never happen again. Not for the first time, which by definition can only happen once and is rarer for it especially in MLB, where so many things have already happened that broadcasters constantly find themselves scrambling for cherry-picked stats that can invent new “firsts.” But this is a bona fide, never-before, non-cherry-picked major-league first, and the honor goes to everyone’s favorite team, the Houston Astros.
The immaculate inning is rarer than the no-hitter, or even the perfect game. Out of 234,213 major-league games played, there have been 316 no-hitters and 23 perfect games. Out of the 4,149,631 innings that have been thrown in major-league history, there have been 108 immaculate innings. That’s a lot of orders of magnitude for the measly human mind to wrap itself around, so boiled down slightly: The immaculate inning is roughly 50 times less likely to happen than a no-hitter, and four times less likely than a perfect game.
If you look at the players who have thrown multiple immaculate innings, it’s a remarkable lineup: Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Kevin Gausman, who’s the most “one of these is not like the others” of the list but is no slouch himself. But expand to look at the list of players who have thrown just one, and it’s a strange pastiche of pitchers, of varying calibers. Like all of the best baseball accolades, the immaculate inning isn’t pure skill. Who cares for accomplishments like that? Vibes-wise, the immaculate inning feels easier to achieve than both a no-hitter or a perfect game, or perhaps the word is flukier—like you have to wait for the bison camped out in Batavia to scare a goose whose migratory patterns are messed up by the accelerator-warmed ponds at the right moment, and then the moving parts of swinging a baseball bat will align perfectly for you to get three strikeouts on nine pitches.
It feels apt that the two immaculate innings came between two broken-up no-hitters almost finished by pitchers who came out of nowhere—one by Cardinals pitcher Miles Mikolas the night before, and then by Dodgers pitcher Tyler Anderson the night of. A no-hitter is more common, but boy is it difficult to achieve, and if two get broken up in the ninth inning on consecutive days—well, you might as well sandwich the impossible between them.
Here’s a very serious collation of events that are more common than two immaculate innings happening in the same game, against the same three batters:
- J.D. Martinez hitting four home runs in a game
- A pitcher executing a WHIP Save
- A batter hitting for the Saint Cycle
- Joe Maddon intentionally walking a batter with the bases loaded in any given game
- Trea Turner hitting for the cycle
- Dave Stieb giving up no-hitters on on the last out of the game
- Ceiling leaks and/or collapses hindering two Defector writers whose names start with the letter “K” this week
- Hitting three home runs in a game while it’s drizzling in the week of May 20, 1990
- Defector blogging about Tommy Pham and Joc Pederson’s fantasy football league on any given day