Is the immaculate inning cool? It's not really something I even thought about as an official baseballing achievement until fairly recently. On the one hand, it feels a little silly to make a whole thing out of a pitcher completing the totally arbitrary task of striking out three batters on nine pitches in one inning, but is that really any different than people getting all excited for a batter hitting for the cycle? Also, the immaculate inning does make for a nice bit-sized highlight reel:
Hey, that's Chris Sale! If it feels like it's been forever since you saw or thought about Sale, at one point one of the coolest and most fearsome pitchers in baseball, that's because it has been a really long time since he was pitching with any regularity. Sale made his season debut on Aug. 14, which was exactly two years and one day from the last time he pitched in an MLB game, thanks to a blown elbow. The Red Sox have kept him on a pretty strict pitch count since his return (he threw 89 pitches in his first start, 71 in his second, and 80 last night), but Sale has still been pretty good, managing to get through at least five innings in each of those starts. Last night he struck out eight Twins in 5.1 innings, and afterwards he said he felt the best he has so far since his return.
"Today was probably the best my mechanics have been, start to finish. I really felt like I was staying on top of the baseball. I really kind of found it out in the bullpen before the game," Sale said to reporters.
There are certainly some flashes of vintage Sale in those nine pitches above. Those back-to-back changeups that set Andrelton Simmons up to whiff on a high fastball? Mamma mia! That big ol' frisbee slider that put down Rob Refsnyder to end the inning? Bellissimo!
What was better than those individual pitches was seeing Sale in attack mode. That's what always made him so fun to watch before Tommy John surgery put him on the shelf for two seasons—his particularly unrelenting style. So it was fitting that his best start of the season featured an immaculate inning, which I believe Sale now can now claim as "his thing." You see, last night Sale became the only other pitcher besides Sandy Koufax to rack up three immaculate innings in his career, which helpfully provides an answer to the question that started this blog post. Is the immaculate inning cool? Well, Sandy Koufax and Chris Sale are both cool as hell, so, yes, the immaculate inning is cool.