By Dan Schlossberg
Every day of the baseball season, something happens that never happened before.
Usually, it is something spectacular, like a no-hitter by a completely unexpected source or a ridiculous number of total bases by a hitter (Shawn Green has the single-game record of 19).
But the Houston Astros gave us something completely different on Wednesday night.
Two different pitchers delivered immaculate innings — a feat more rare than a triple play or a balk by a catcher.
For the uninitiated, an immaculate inning occurs when a pitcher strikes out the side on nine pitches. Three batters. Three up, three strikes, three down.
Here’s what happened in our game of reference:
In the second inning of Houston’s 9-2 win over Texas, Astros starting pitcher Luis Garcia struck out Nathaniel Lowe, Ezequiel Duran and Brad Miller on nine pitches, recording the first immaculate inning.
Then in the seventh, reliever Phil Maton got the same hitters … and also struck them out on nine pitches.
It’s the first time in MLB history two immaculate innings have occurred on the same day — and this happened on the same day, in the same game, against the same team, to the same hitters.
For the Astros, who are itching for a chance to get back to the World Series and get Dusty Baker his first ring as a manager, the midweek pitching performance will be an afterthought in no time. But it shouldn’t be forgotten.
On a team loaded with such sluggers as Yordan Alvarez, the MVP of last year’s American League Championship Series, pitchers other than Justin Verlander rarely generate any newspaper ink. But here’s a chance to correct that error of omission.
No team wins division, playoff series, or world titles without great pitching. The Astros have it in spades, even without the injured Lance McCullers, Jr.
Verlander, at 39, is on a quest to join the 300 Club, an effort that sounds like Mission Impossible for a Tommy John survivor of an advanced athletic age. But no one can argue with his stats, which could result in a starting assignment for the July 19 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.
Framber Valdez, Jake Odorizzi, Cristian Javier, and Garcia complete the rotation, with McCullers, Jr. ready to return when he is physically able. He actually suffered his latest injury during the 99-day lockout.
Baker could actually go with a six-man rotation, as many teams are doing, to give each starter extra rest as the weather gets warmer.
One thing is virtually certain: he won’t be getting any more immaculate innings out of the group. Not even Verlander, who seems capable of doing anything — from marrying Kate Upton to pitching no-hitters and winning Cy Young awards.
When the 2022 season started, it looked like the Seattle Mariners or Los Angeles Angels might mount a challenge to Houston’s perennial lock on the divisional penthouse door. But those thoughts have evaporated into the cyberspace of baseball.
Other than the Yankees, the Astros are the most likely of any team in the majors to top their division this year.
The double immaculate inning is just another step toward that accomplishment.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has been covering the game since 1969. His byline runs in forbes.com, Latino Sports, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and elsewhere. E.mail Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.