When you flip on a baseball game, you never know what might happen. This column is living proof. What the heck. Just since last week …
A major-league player hit a home run against a pitch traveling at 35 mph. … A minor-league player ended a game by stealing home. … And the Yankees have now “outwon” both the AL East and Steph Curry.
But none of that was even the Weirdest or Wildest news of the week. Because the magic word for the Houston Astros this week was immaculate.
1. The Immaculate Dissection
A lot of words have been used in my house to describe the condition of me and my home office. “Immaculate” would not be one of them.
Fortunately, I get to delve into a whole different definition of “immaculate” in this column. And fortunately, it doesn’t involve filing, vacuuming or sorting through the 898 old media guides in my closet. Instead, our topic today is that baseball miracle known as the “immaculate inning.” So I’d like to express my deep appreciation to the Astros and Rangers for changing that subject.
What happened in that Astros-Rangers game Wednesday can’t happen. Shouldn’t happen. Shouldn’t be possible. Shouldn’t ever be possible again, certainly. But …
Somehow or other, for the first time in recorded history (and almost certainly any other kind of history), the Astros pitched two immaculate innings (three up, three down, three strikeouts, three pitches each) … in the same game … against the same three hitters.
Phil Maton just tossed the second immaculate inning of the game, to the SAME THREE BATTERS as the first one … pic.twitter.com/9HUBNWshU5
— MLB (@MLB) June 15, 2022
Well, call me an overreactor if you’d like, but this seemed kind of unlikely. So I set out to find out exactly how unlikely. OK, here’s exactly how unlikely.
• In the 35 seasons we know as “the pitch-count era,” the Rangers had only one previous immaculate inning pitched against them. And then they had two in the same game.
• But that previous immaculate inning was thrown 32 years ago, by the Royals’ Jeff Montgomery on April 29, 1990. I’m guessing the three hitters involved in Wednesday’s immaculate daily double don’t recall that one too well … since Nathaniel Lowe and Ezequiel Duran hadn’t made their debut on Planet Earth yet – and Brad Miller was 6 months old.
• Since that game, the Rangers had played 5,060 games — with no immaculate innings. And then they had two of them in the same game.
• In between those games, Rangers hitters had accumulated 174,338 at-bats … 35,492 strikeouts … in more than 45,000 innings … and still avoided any immaculate innings. But then Wednesday, they had two of them in a span of 21 at-bats … and 15 strikeouts … and six innings. Because of course they did.
• In between those games, the Rangers faced Félix Hernández 58 times … Justin Verlander 33 times … Randy Johnson 30 times …Roger Clemens 28 times … Roy Halladay 20 times … and Pedro Martinez 14 times. And none of those guys had any immaculate innings against them. But then Luis Garcia and Phil Maton had two in the same game.
• Also in that same period, a gentleman named Nolan Ryan pitched four seasons for the Rangers … threw 572 2/3 innings … struck out 605 hitters … and never had any immaculate innings with the team. But then … aw, you get the idea.
• And I should probably mention that the Astros had thrown only one immaculate inning (by Will Harris) in the last 17 seasons. … And in those 17 seasons, the list of pitchers who threw zero immaculate innings for them included Verlander, Clemens, Gerrit Cole, Roy Oswalt, Zack Greinke, Brad Lidge, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr., among others. … But then Garcia and Maton fired two of them in the same game. You can’t make this stuff up.
OK, so let’s see now. What were the odds of that happening? I decided there were two ways to look at that.
First, I know I can never go wrong checking in with always-entertaining Astros radio voice Steve Sparks, an actual eyewitness to this event. He was happy to pass along his list of …
Five things that are definitely more likely than the Astros throwing two immaculate innings against the same three hitters
1) Gabe Kapler beats Joey Chestnut in the Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest.
2) Myles Straw hits 763 home runs and pushes Barry Bonds out of the record book.
3) Tom Brady eats a Snickers.
4) Harry Styles plays Rocky Balboa in “Rocky 7.”
5) Crypto is replaced by Monopoly money.
Any argument with those? Great. How could there be? Steve knows what’s unlikely when he sees it.
But I also realize there’s a scientific side to all of this. So I called on Weird and Wild’s official math guru/odds calculator, Greg Stoll, inventor of the invaluable Win Expectancy Finder at gregstoll.com. And in mere minutes (or approximately six months faster than it would have taken me), he had the answer.
• The odds of the same team throwing two immaculate innings in the same game? They would be 1 in 7.47 million.
• But the odds of the same team throwing two immaculate innings in the same game against the same three hitters? Now you’ve got some decimal points spinning. Those odds would be 1 in 67.2 million.
• Or, to put this in terms we can more easily relate to, this should happen once every 27,670 seasons. But it happened Wednesday, in this Weird and Wild season, before our very eyes.
Baseball! It’s a beautiful, and occasionally immaculate, thing.
2. How the Yankees shut down Steph Curry and Steven Stamkos
What a time to be alive. It’s NBA Finals time. It’s Stanley Cup Final time. It’s baseball season. And every once in a while, in my brain at least, the three of them mush together to form a giant must-devour stew.
Which is how I found myself comparing the Yankees to the Warriors, Celtics, Lightning and Avalanche this week.
You see, the Yankees played their 60th game of the season — and came out of it with an almost unheard of .733 winning percentage (44-16). And I thought: You see .733 winning percentages in those other sports all the time. But in baseball? Almost never.
Then, however, I went down a Sports-Reference rabbit hole again and found … that after 60 games, neither team in the NBA Finals had a .733 winning percentage … and neither did those two teams in the Stanley Cup Final. And then I thought: Hmmm, I bet that doesn’t happen much.
So I asked my friends at STATS Perform to take a look. Glad I did.
• Since the NBA-ABA merger (in 1976-77), STATS found only three baseball teams whose winning percentage after 60 games was better than all four of the finalists in the other two sports after their first 60 games:
|YEAR||MLB LEADER||BEST OF NBA/NHL|
Yankees .767 (46-14)
Mariners .783 (47-13)
Yankees .733 (44-16)
• Since NHL expansion (in 1967-68), we add three more teams.
| YEAR||MLB LEADER||BEST OF NBA/NHL|
Orioles .717 (43-17)
Cubs .678 (40-19-1)
Tigers .661 (39-20-1)
Now before that, back in the 1950s, this happened almost every year. So we’ll skip past that, because here comes the Yankees’ real challenge: Can they pull this off over a full season?
Wish them luck. According to STATS, only one team has ever gone on to win the World Series and had a better record than all four of the NBA/NHL finalists. You’ll be surprised.
|YEAR||MLB WS WINNER||BEST OF NBA/NHL|
Braves .617 (95-69)
So that was Henry Aaron’s 1957 Braves, who didn’t just beat Mickey Mantle’s Yankees that year — but also Bill Russell’s Celtics! And now it’s Aaron Judge versus Steph. Who ya got?
3. Stuff I loved this week
CLEMENS ON THE HILL — Fifteen years after Roger Clemens threw his final pitch, his son, Kody, ambled over from third base and made his big-league pitching debut Wednesday in a Tigers-White Sox game that went off the rails. I’ll try to restrain myself because this could have been its own Weird and Wild column.
Last outing by Roger (9/16/07) — 24 batters faced, 2 hits
First outing by Kody (Wednesday) — 7 batters faced, 3 hits
Hits by Abreus vs. Roger — one (by Bobby, on 7/27/05)
Hits by Abreus vs. Kody — one (by José, Wednesday)
First walk issued by Kody – to Danny Mendick (Wednesday)
Last walk issued by Roger — to David Ortiz (9/16/07)
MONCADA’S FIVE-HIT DOUBLE ASTERISK — It’s Weird and Wild enough when a guy hitting .141 gets five hits in a game, as Yoán Moncada did in that Tigers-White Sox game. But before we weep tears of joy, we should probably mention he got two of the five hits off position players
(hit No. 4 off Clemens in the eighth and hit No. 5 off Tucker Barnhart in the ninth).
Well, you don’t see that much. In fact, you don’t see that ever. I cajoled NBC Sports Chicago’s tremendous research whiz, Chris Kamka, into investigating this. And I’d like to apologize for how much of his life he invested in this project. But it was worth it because …
How many other players since 1960 have had a five-hit game but got 40 percent of those hits off folks who don’t pitch for a living. You guessed it. That would be none.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO VERLANDER/SCHERZER/PRICE? Not so long ago, the Tigers sent three Cy Young Award winners to the mound in pretty much every series. Then on Wednesday, they sent three position players — Clemens, Barnhart and Harold Castro — to the mound in the same game.
That enabled the White Sox’s Leury García to make three outs against position players in one game (strikeout against Castro, grounded into a double play against Barnhart). But we digress, because…
Over the 105 seasons from 1913 to 2017, we saw exactly one team use three true position players to pitch in the same game. That was George Bamberger’s 1979 Brewers (Sal Bando for three innings, Jim Gantner and Buck Martinez). And then …
It’s now happened three times just since 2018! David Ross’ Cubs did it twice (July 20, 2018 and April 28, 2021, aka, the Anthony Rizzo Game). And then A.J. Hinch’s Tigers on Wednesday. Welcome to …
Baseball! In 2022!
WORKING AT THE STEAL MILL — What’s cooler than a walk-off steal of home? Check out this epic moment from Indianapolis last week before you answer.
A walk-off steal of home must have you feeling like a god for at least the next month pic.twitter.com/Q74tLU19s5
— Jomboy Media (@JomboyMedia) June 10, 2022
Last walk-off steal of home in the big leagues? Marquis Grissom, in Game 3 of the 1997 ALCS. But don’t bring it up to anyone in Baltimore!
October 11, 1997: ALCS “Phantom Squeeze” ️#OurCLE wins Gm 3 of ’97 ALCS in 12th inning-walkoff style. Marquis Grissom straight steal of home as Omar misses on squeeze play. Grissom atones for missing fly ball in lights in 9th. We’ll take it! #Grover #SqueezePlay #ShadowsGame pic.twitter.com/hZO8FzwkNO
— On This Day: Cleveland Sports (@CityfanC) October 11, 2021
Last one in the regular season? Glenn Brummer of the Cardinals off Gary Lavelle (Giants), a classic on Aug. 22, 1982, with two outs in the 12th inning and the bases loaded!
HOW BOUT THIS WHOPPER — Finally, hot off the grill, it’s the baseball moment we’ve been waiting for all season: Burger (Jake) versus King (John), last weekend on the South Side of Chicago.
It is time. pic.twitter.com/FaCYFiemo5
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 11, 2022
Last Friday — Burger singles off King in the eighth inning. And it was so delicious, they went back for more two days later!
Sunday — King intentionally walks Burger in the 10th.
They’ll go for the Triple Whopper in August, when the White Sox head to Texas for four big happy meals!
4. This week in useless info
MOVE OVER, RUTH AND GEHRIG — I’m not used to typing phrases like “better than Ruth and Gehrig.” But it’s time to type that. Oh, wait. I just did.
Why? Because last Saturday, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton homered in the same game for the 24th time as Yankees teammates (counting the postseason). And what’s so Weird and Wild about that? How ’bout this:
The Yankees’ record when they both homer is now 23-1. And that’s where those magic words, better than Ruth and Gehrig, come in.
I asked my friend Katie Sharp of Baseball-Reference to compare Judge and Stanton with two other iconic Yankees duos — Babe Ruth/Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris. Turns out, we’ve just seen a monumental change on that leaderboard:
Current “one-loss” stretch by Judge/Stanton: 23-1
Best “one-loss” stretch by Ruth/Gehrig: 22-1
Best “one-loss” stretch by Mantle/Maris: 12-1
Current 24-game stretch by Judge/Stanton: 23-1
Best 24-game stretch by Ruth/Gehrig: 22-2
Best 24-game stretch by Mantle/Maris: 21-3
Just to be fair, at one point, Ruth and Gehrig did win 21 games in a row when both homered — whereas Judge/Stanton have topped out at “only” 12 in a row, their current streak. But the court chooses to ignore that evidence, in order to maintain the use of the phrase, better than Ruth and Gehrig — because the judge is (who else) the Judge!
WHAT’S THAT STREAKING IN THE EAST? It was Weird and Wild enough that the Braves and Phillies had simultaneous winning streaks of 10 (Braves) and nine (Phillies) games, respectively, this month. But here’s what’s truly Weird and Wild about that:
They were that hot, at the same time — but neither of them was in first place!
This was another project in which loyal readers egged me on to spend way too much time on it. But here goes:
How many other times in the divisional era (1969-2022)? That would be no other times when two teams had concurrent winning streaks that long without either of them starting or ending the streak in first place. So what about …
How many times before there were divisions (1901-1968)? You’d think this would have been way easier back in the days when there were just “leagues,” not four or six divisions, right? I thought so until I looked … because it happened only two times in the modern era prior to divisions:
• On Sept. 30, 1961, the Pirates had a 12-game win streak going and the Cardinals were at nine — but they were 19 and 14 games out of first, respectively.
• On Sept. 5, 1926, the Senators and Indians each won their ninth game in a row, and a lot of good that did them. They were nine and 14 out of first, respectively.
DIDN’T YOU USED TO BE …? A lot has changed in the world since October 2014, as Ned Yost, Bruce Bochy and Madison Bumgarner could obviously remind us. But then the Royals visited San Francisco this week, eight years after the 2014 Giants-Royals World Series. And I couldn’t help but notice what hadn’t changed.
Still playing for the Giants: Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt
Still playing for the Royals: Salvador Perez
I love it when there are still vestiges of stability in sports. And these two franchises love it themselves. So how rare is this? Three players who stick around so long, never leave and are still playing for the same teams when they meet this many years after a World Series matchup?
Baseball-Reference’s awesome Kenny Jackelen examined that question for us. He took the entire interleague-play era (1997-2022). Then he looked at only World Series teams that met again at least eight years later, with at least three returning players, who never changed teams in between and with at least one playing for each team.
Braves-Yankees: He found a bunch of Braves and Yankees still around from the 1996 and 1999 World Series when those teams met again in 2006 and 2009. That group (in various combos): Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera (Yankees); and Chipper Jones, John Smoltz and Andruw Jones (Braves).
Indians-Braves: Those teams met in the 1995 World Series. But when they held a rematch nine years later, in 2004, two Braves (Smoltz and Chipper) and one Clevelander (Omar Vizquel) were still around for the reunion tour.
But that’s it, in a quarter-century of these possibilities … until Giants-Royals. Tells us something about turnover in modern baseball, doesn’t it?
ON WITH THE SHOH — Remember when the Angels had lost 14 games in a row? It was just last week, until Shohei Ohtani worked his magic last Saturday and ended that cliff dive almost singlehandedly.
In the third inning, in the Best Pitcher on the Team part of his day, he did this.
Then, in the fifth inning, when he had other stuff to do, he hit a ball real hard.
So to recap, he threw a baseball at 101 miles per frigging hour. And then he hit a baseball with an exit velo of 104.4 mph. And that’s a thing that isn’t supposed to happen.
The only men in the Statcast era (2015-22) to throw a pitch that hard and hit a home run that hard in the same game, according to Statcast Wizard Jason Bernard:
Noah Syndergaard, on Aug. 16, 2016 … and … (yep) Ohtani himself, in the epic first inning of his first start as a pitcher last season, on April 4, 2021.
But why do we call attention to it now? Because remember this: You’ll never see that again from any other human! Just Babe Ohtani.
THE 5-5 CLUB — How’d the Mets finish off their Sunday Night Baseball extravaganza against the Angels last weekend? With the first five-out, five-strikeout, no-hit save of Edwin Díaz’s career. But that’s not all. It was just the sixth five-out, five-whiff, hitless save since the dawn of the modern save rule in 1969. And the other five constitute a spectacular group!
Giovanny Gallegos — 23 days earlier (May 20, 2022)
Armando Benitez — April 4, 1997
Rob Dibble — July 20, 1992
Tom Henke — July 7, 1989
Goose Gossage — May 14, 1982
In other words, four of these in half a century … and then two of these in three weeks.
Extra credit: Josh Hader (8 outs, 8 K’s on April 30, 2018) and Dibble again (6 outs, 6 K’s on April 23, 1991).
18 AND OUT — Tigers pitcher Elvin Rodriguez worked his way into last week’s column for his historic 10-run, four-long-ball visit to Yankee Stadium. So at least his next start, last Friday at the Blue Jays, went better than that. As in eight more runs and three more homers. Whereupon …
The Tigers thought it might be time to get Elvin to Toledo! I’d love to think he’ll figure it out and make it back to the majors. But just in case he doesn’t, you should know that no pitcher has given up 18 runs in his final two appearances for any team since …
And that year, two pitchers did that: Joe Krakauskas (18 and see ya for the Senators) and George Caster (23 in his last two outings and sayonara for the A’s).
SIX OF ONE, HALF-DOZEN OF THE OTHER — Matt Swarmer started for the Cubs last Saturday at Yankee Stadium and did something that hadn’t been done by any Cubs pitcher since … 1884!
Let’s sum up his day this way:
Swarmer last Saturday: 6 home runs to 22 batters
Jake Arrieta in 2014: 5 home runs all season — to 614 batters
OUT OF SIGHT — Tuesday in St. Louis, Yadi Molina caught a foul popup. Apparently, he’s done it before — because it was the 14,865th putout of his remarkable career. And it meant he has now recorded more putouts than any catcher who ever lived.
But when you just say that, it still doesn’t put it in its proper perspective. So how about this:
• That’s more putouts behind the plate than Yogi Berra (19 seasons) and Manny Sanguillen (13 seasons) combined.
• It’s more putouts than Mike Scioscia (13 seasons) and Mickey Cochrane (13 seasons) combined.
• It’s more putouts than Bill Dickey (17 seasons) and Elston Howard (15 seasons) combined.
• And it’s more putouts than his two brothers — Bengie and José (28 total seasons) — combined.
In other words, that’s a lot of freaking outs!
5. This week in Strange But Trueness
ALL THAT JAZZ — I’ve decided this column has paid too little attention to Marlins Weird/Wild-master Jazz Chisholm Jr. You seriously never know what that dude might have in store for you. For instance …
Last Thursday (6/9): Two bunt hits!
Last Friday (6/10): Two home runs!
Ever recall anything like that? I couldn’t. And for good reason. I asked my friends from STATS to see if they could find someone, anyone, who had ever done that. And …
You know how many players have had two bunt hits and then a two-homer game on back-to-back days over the last 35 years? Yep. One.
Jazz Chisholm Jr.
(Only one other active player has even had two bunt hits one day and one homer the next day: Odúbel Herrera in 2017.)
BOTTOMS UP — Then you have the Phillies. They’re paying the top six hitters in their lineup a combined $120 million this year. So naturally …
The Phillies have hit two walk-off home runs this year — and they’re both by No. 9 hitters. First, Bryson Stott hit a lead-flipping walk-off against the Angels on June 5. Then, on Wednesday, they were one strike away from getting shut out by the Marlins, when backup catcher Garrett Stubbs did this:
But hang on. We haven’t gotten to the Strange But True part yet.
• The last starting No. 9 hitter to hit a walk-off home run for the Phillies before this year, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Who else but Chick Fraser … a pitcher … who hit no other career homers … but somehow hit one walk-off … on June 16, 1903!
• Meanwhile, how many other teams have gotten two walk-off homers in the same season from No. 9 hitters – when losing with two outs in the ninth? The Baseball-Reference database is mostly complete back to 1915. And the answer, since then, is … yep … none!
NO-NO OH-NO — Then again, weird stuff happens in baseball as the heat mounts in the ninth. Miles Mikolas and Tyler Anderson could tell you all about it. Did we just see two pitchers lose no-hitters in the ninth inning on back-to-back nights this week (Tuesday/Wednesday)? ‘Fraid so. So you should probably be aware that …
Last time that happened two days in a row? That would be never, according to the fabulous website, Lost in the Ninth. In the expansion era (1961-2022), it has happened twice in the same day, however: Aug. 20, 1986 (Walt Terrell and the great Don Carman) and July 13, 1979 (Nolan Ryan and Steve Renko).
But how many times had it happened this year? As my friend, Doug (Kernels) Kern so succinctly put it …
First 68 days of season: 0 no-hitters broken up in the ninth
Days 69 and 70 of season: 2 no-hitters broken up in the ninth
Last no-hitter broken up by the MVP? Ohtani’s gem-busting triple off Anderson made him the first reigning MVP to bust up a no-hitter in the ninth since Joe Mauer, who blew up a Rangers combined no-hit bid on Aug. 23, 2010. (h/t to YES Network’s James Smyth.)
Last time the Dodgers lost a no-hitter in the 9th? That would be Aug. 4, 1963 (Johnny Podres), according to Kern. So that ended the longest stretch without one of those by any team. Which means the longest stretch now belongs, mysteriously, to that team that we all thought specialized in no-hit heartbreak — the Mets (Tom Seaver at Wrigley, on Sept. 24. 1975).
GET HIGGY WITH IT — I’m sure the scouting book on Kyle Higashioka used to be: Change speeds! But as the Cubs could testify, it might be time to get a new book.
In the third inning Sunday, Higashioka saw a Daniel Norris fastball heading his way at 92.1 mph — and he did this.
But then, five innings later, with Cubs first baseman/eephus-baller Frank Schwindel on the mound, along came a 35.1 mph parachute ball, and Higashioka knew what to do with that one, too.
So I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I know what I was thinking: Has anyone ever hit two home runs off pitches that were separated by 57 mph of “velocity” (if that’s even an applicable term for Schwindel)?
Heh-heh-heh-heh. You’re kidding, right? Statcast wizard Bernard took on that momentous research project. And the answer was: Not even close!
Here’s the leaderboard from the last 15 seasons (aka the Pitch Tracking Era).
THE HIGGY BANK — But that’s not all the Higashioka Strange But Trueness this week!
• According to our friends from Codify Baseball, that 35.1 mph meatball he hit was the slowest pitch anyone had ever homered against, at least in recorded history (last 15 seasons).
• But yes, there’s more. Because the vertical movement on that Schwindel pitch — if that’s the right term for it — was a mind-warping 19 feet, 8 inches, according to Codify. Or, as it’s also known, gravity.
• Finally, it isn’t every day you see a guy have a multi-homer game at Yankee Stadium, with one homer off an actual pitcher but the other off a position player. In fact, there hasn’t been any day, at least by a guy hitting for the Yankees.
In franchise history, only one other player had ever hit two home runs like that — but the other came before the construction of any version of Yankee Stadium. It was on Aug. 31, 1906! Frank Delahanty did the honors, at Hilltop Park — with the second homer coming off Washington Senators outfielder Joe Stanley, who was allowed to pitch the final three innings of a 20-5 mashing. And who was clearly no Frank Schwindel.
IT’S ALL CYCLICAL — I got a fantastic question from reader Dave Bahr after Jared Walsh’s cycle against the Mets last Saturday.
I’m wondering if there’s some goofy stat or history behind a person hitting for the cycle on one team and then someone else hitting for the cycle on another team, against the first team of the cycle hitter?
Or to put this another way, has any other team ever hit for the cycle and allowed a cycle on the same road trip? I promised Dave I’d jump on this case. Promise kept.
I spent way too much time ripping through all the cycles in the modern era. But it was worth it — because I learned that only one other team since 1901 has ever done this.
That team was the cycle-addicted 1933 Philadelphia A’s, who started spewing out all sorts of cycles on back-to-back August road trips:
Aug. 2 and 6, 1933 — Had two players (Mickey Cochrane and Pinky Higgins) hit for the cycle on the same trip.
Aug. 14 and 17, 1933 — Hit for a cycle (Jimmie Foxx), then allowed a cycle (to Earl Averill) on their next trip.
Incidentally, that team hit five cycles and allowed two others, just between 1932 and ’34 because, obviously, it’s all cyclical.
DEJA BRAVES — I know it seemed as though two or three Braves hit a home run every inning during their trip to Washington this week. But look at this:
Homered for the Braves on Monday: Swanson, d’Arnaud, Ozuna, Harris II.
Homered for the Braves on Tuesday: Swanson, d’Arnaud, Ozuna, Harris II.
They weren’t the only ones, but you get the picture. So when do you ever see the same four players hitting a home run in the first two games of any series? I couldn’t remember that. So I asked my friends at STATS, and there’s a good reason I couldn’t remember.
Because it’s never happened. As in ever. In the first two games of any series. Involving any teams. But then it happened this week in Washington, because …
(Top photo of Phil Maton: Jerome Miron / USA Today)