My google alert screamed this afternoon with a new hit for Immaculate Inning: this article by Gregg Found at ESPN, which mentions the 44th Immaculate Inning in Major League History. Congratulations to Rafael Soriano, the Tampa Bay Rays closer who effortlessly dispatched the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA, Earth by striking out the side on nine pitches last night. His victims were Erik Aybar, pinch hitter Mike Napoli, and Peter Bourjos.
Soriano was not the first one to throw an Immaculate Inning to end a game, which has happened eight times previously, though two ended complete games with Immaculate Innings (by Ron Guidry and Trevor Wilson). Closers, meanwhile, don't need to play the cat-and-mouse game of wasting pitches, and there is a high priority placed on not walking anyone. Therefore it makes a bit of sense that Soriano joins closers such as Jason Isringhausen by finishing off the game with nine straight strikes.
We honor the Immaculate Inning here because it serves as a type of dominance a pitcher can have over the batters in that inning, and along those lines, Soriano's feat stands out. The Rays' closer got seven swinging strikes (including one foul by Napoli) out of the nine strikes, and all three batters swung through the final pitch. Napoli's at bat was also interesting, as a pinch hitter he seemed predestined to swing-- missing wildly on breaking pitches for strikes one and three. For his part, he just missed a fastball right down the middle on Soriano's second pitch-- a few centimeters over and we're not talking about an Immaculate Inning.
Soriano picked up his league-leading 38th save for the effort, and the victory secured a tie in the AL East with the Yankees, meaning that this Immaculate Inning is one of the most "clutch" in the history of the feat, the first in nearly a year. Honestly, despite two perfect games, how could we call 2010 the Year of the Pitcher without at least one Immaculate Inning?
Finally, we'll have to agree with Found as he notes that an Immaculate Inning is "a feat with a cool-sounding moniker to match its impressiveness."