The unprecedented rate of strikeouts in baseball represents a decidedly mixed bag. On the one hand, more strikeouts means less on-field action and a slower pace of play. On the other hand, pitchers are using their tremendous velocity and deep arsenals to perform feats rarely seen in baseball history.
One such feat is the immaculate inning, whereby a pitcher strikes out the side on nine pitches. Four pitchers—Drew Storen, Craig Kimbrel, Max Scherzer, and Kenley Jansen—have already thrown immaculate innings this year, the last three coming within eight days of each other. There have been just 85 immaculate innings in the history of the game, and only four seasons (including this one) to feature more than three.
Mets pitchers have thrown two of those 85 immaculate innings. The first came on July 19, 1968, when Nolan Ryan took the mound against the Dodgers on a Friday afternoon at Shea. In just his fourth appearance in the big leagues, Ryan showcased the dominant stuff that would define his Hall of Fame career. The right-hander started the game by striking out the side in the first inning and added another strikeout in the second. The Mets then took the lead in the bottom of the second on an Art Shamsky sac fly.
In the top of the third, Ryan faced the 9-1-2 hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup: opposing pitcher Claude Osteen, first baseman Wes Parker, and shortstop Zoilo Versalles. Ryan struck each batter out on three pitches, and each at-bat ended with a swinging strike. This would be the Mets’ first and only immaculate inning for more than twenty years.
Ryan finished the day with 11 strikeouts over 7.1 innings. He also walked four batters and surrendered six hits, one of which was a solo home run to Tom Haller in the seventh, and the other an eighth-inning single to Willie Davis. The Mets’ bullpen relieved Ryan in the eighth, but allowed Davis and an uninherited runner to score. Despite a ninth-inning solo shot by Ron Swoboda, the Mets lost the game, 3-2, and Ryan was saddled with the loss.
The Mets fared better after their second immaculate performance. David Cone accomplished the feat on August 30, 1991, in a Friday night game against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium. Like Ryan, Cone got in a groove early, striking out a batter in the first, two in the second, and two in the third. After giving up two hits and a sac fly in the fourth, Cone struck out his sixth batter of the night.
The Mets tied the game in the top of the fifth on a Charlie O’Brien home run off Reds starter Randy Myers. (That season was, incidentally, the ex-Met’s only one as a part-time starting pitcher.)
In the bottom of the inning, Cone faced center fielder Herm Winningham, Myers, and second baseman Mariano Duncan, the Reds’ 8-9-1 hitters. As Ryan did twenty-three years and a few months earlier, Cone struck the three batters out on nine pitches and earned himself a place in Mets lore.
The Mets took the lead on a Howard Johnson single in the sixth, while Paul O’Neill doubled in a run off Cone later in the inning to tie the game. After pinch-hitting for Cone in the top of the seventh, the Mets regained the lead on a Keith Miller single off Myers. Neither side’s bullpen surrendered any runs, and Cone’s Mets won the game, 3-2. Cone finished the day with nine strikeouts over six innings of work, while allowing two runs on six hits and a walk.
Ryan and Cone were both excellent right-handed pitchers who went on to have long and distinguished careers. However, given the Mets’ historical wealth of pitching talent, it’s a bit surprising that Ryan and Cone are the only Mets to throw an immaculate inning. Perhaps with the high-velocity arms and electric stuff currently in the Mets’ rotation—or waiting to return to it—the franchise’s third immaculate inning isn’t too far off in the distance.