Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale followed a forgettable April with a respectable May.
Now he’s aiming to be untouchable in June.
The 30-year-old left-hander got off to a great start on Wednesday. Sale dominated the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium, pitching a three-hit shutout in the Red Sox’s 8-0 victory.
The entire outing was vintage Chris Sale. He struck out 12, walked none and allowed only singles. But one inning in particular showcased just how dominant Sale can be when he’s locked in.
Sale struck out all three Royals batters he faced in the eighth inning on the minimum of nine pitches.
In baseball, that feat in known as an immaculate inning.
For Sale, it was his second immaculate inning of the season, which had only been done one other time in MLB history.
The other man to do it was Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Grove, who accomplished it back in 1928 while pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics.
#RedSox Chris Sale is the first pitcher to throw two Immaculate Innings in a single season since Lefty Grove in 1928.
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) June 6, 2019
Sale’s immaculate innings were 28 days apart. Grove’s were 35.
Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, along with likely future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer, are the only other pitchers to throw at least two immaculate innings in their careers. Koufax did it three times.
Sale’s first immaculate inning came on May 8, when he set down Hanser Alberto, Dwight Smith Jr. and Steve Wilkerson of the Baltimore Orioles. On Wednesday, Sale mowed down the Royals’ Kelvin Gutiérrez and Nicky Lopez before putting away Martín Maldonado with his ninth pitch of the inning and 92nd pitch of the game.
He needed only 10 more pitches in the ninth inning to complete his third career shutout.
With the shutout, Sale lowered his season ERA to 3.84 after finishing April with a 6.30 ERA. The Red Sox are 4-9 in games he’s started in 2019.
How rare are immaculate innings?
In recent years, not very.
After Grove’s second immaculate inning in 1928, there was not another one in MLB until 1953, a drought spanning 25 seasons.
For comparison, there have been 61 immaculate innings over the last 25 years.
More than anything, that speaks to how much baseball has changed over the last quarter century.
In past generations, you were far more likely to see a no-hitter.
Prior to 1994, 36 of the 97 total immaculate innings were recorded.
Prior to 1994, 235 of the 300 total no-hitters, postseason included, were recorded. That means nowadays it’s close to an even bet.
This season, there have been four immaculate innings. In addition to Sale, Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers and Thomas Pannone of the Toronto Blue Jays have each thrown one.
There has only been one no-hitter, thrown by the Oakland Athletics’ Mike Fiers.
Despite immaculate innings being more frequent, and despite the fact Sale’s immaculate innings came against two rebuilding and undeniably light-hitting teams, we shouldn’t discount how tough this feat is to accomplish.
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