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Juan Perez and the Immaculate Inning

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Juan Perez: he's in there somewhere. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Juan Perez: he's in there somewhere. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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By now you've heard that Phillies lefty reliever Juan Perez did something pretty unusual last night: he struck out three straight Braves batters--Jason Heyward, Nate McLouth, and Wilkin Ramirez--on nine pitches in the top of the 10th inning. As Perez got to five straight strikes, then six, it occurred to me I might be about to see something I hadn't seen through thousands of baseball games watched over more than thirty years... but I didn't realize quite how rare was Perez's accomplishment. Turns out his "immaculate inning" is only the 46th in baseball history. By contrast, there have been 271 no-hitters thrown since records were kept. 

As noted in the game recap, Perez is the first Phillie to accomplish the feat since Andy Ashby did it in his second major-league start against the Reds in June 1991. (The Reds were on the receiving end of another one two and a half months later, though it's slightly less shameful to have a young David Cone do it to you than Ashby.) Before Ashby, no Phillie had ever struck out the side on nine pitches, though Rube Waddell had done it once and Lefty Grove twice for the Philadelphia Athletics

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Phils have had it done to them on a few occasions over their checkered history: in fact, the first immaculate inning on record was thrown against the Philadelphia Quakers, as the Phils were then known, in 1889. The team was nine-pitch whiffed again in 1921, 1971, 1991, and most recently in 2002 by Diamondbacks reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, which I think might have been when I started referring to that pitcher as "Butthole Kid." Those five occasions are the most of any club, though the Marlins have had it done to them three times in 114 fewer seasons of play. 

If Perez isn't the most obscure pitcher to accomplish the feat, he's damn close. The list includes Hall of Famers Waddell, Grove (twice), Dazzy Vance, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax (twice), Nolan Ryan (twice), Bob Gibson, and Bruce Sutter, plus future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez and well known stars like Cone, Ron Guidry, and Milt Pappas. Perez is the first pitcher to do it in his first major-league win.

Career highlight? Yeah, probably. The guy is 32, after all, and isn't known for his control. But if nothing else, he goes into Phillies lore as the answer to a great trivia question and creator of a fantastic memory in a big win.