Think about an immaculate inning. That’s nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts, pure perfection. It hardly ever happens. On Monday, Lou Trivino did something that’s even rarer these days.
Trivino got the call to finish off the Oakland A’s 6-0 victory over the Houston Astros, mopping up the 9th inning in a game that was mostly decided already. He threw one pitch to Kyle Tucker and got a flyout. On the next pitch, he induced a flyout from Carlos Correa. Then Aledmys Diaz came up and swung at the first offering as well, flying out to end the game. Three pitches, three outs, inning over.
It’s not clear exactly how many times the three-pitch inning has been pulled off in MLB history, since pitch counts haven’t always been kept with the precision they are today. Baseball Almanac suggests 187 instances, including a couple that were split between two pitchers (and not counting four more from this summer, so really the tentative total is 191).
Breaking down that number further, Melissa Lockard of the Athletic points out that the vast majority of the list has come since 1988, and suggests it could have to do with the past tradition in which the third hitter in an inning would take a couple pitches if the first two batters got out quickly ahead of them. Although, I do wonder if the data might be skewed by the fact that 1988 is right when pitch counts started to get more seriously tracked, with official MLB info not beginning until 1999 — either way it’s still rare, even today.
Lockard also notes that many of the three-pitch innings came from relievers entering mid-inning with inherited runners, rather than starting a fresh frame like Trivino did.
Getting even more specific, Baseball-Reference points out that Trivino is only the ninth pitcher since 1988 to finish a win for his team with three pitches for three individual outs (as opposed to, say, a single and a double play). The last was Bob Wickman for the Cleveland Indians in 2005.
In A’s history, there were a half-dozen three-pitch frames on record before Trivino joined the list.
- Aaron Small, 6/12/1997 (8th inning)
- Gil Heredia, 6/29/2000 (9th inning)
- Tim Hudson, 9/25/2002 (1st inning)
- Kirk Saarloos, 8/24/2005 (6th inning)
- Esteban Loaiza, 8/27/2007 (6th inning)
- Bobby Cramer, 9/24/2010 (6th inning)
- Lou Trivino, 9/7/2020 (9th inning)
Heredia’s inning came at the end of a complete game that he started. However, it didn’t make the Baseball-Reference 9th-inning list above because he allowed a single and then had the runner doubled off on a lineout. Hudson’s was the last to feature three pitches for individual outs by each batter, per scorer David Feldman.
Among that Oakland list, only Small’s outing came in relief, with the rest being part of starts. And Small pitched more than that one frame, so Trivino is the first in recorded franchise history to work only a three-pitch inning.
Although the A’s haven’t done this in a decade, they do employ one of the most recent pitchers to pull it off. Last September, Mike Minor did it as a member of the Rangers against the Red Sox. It only happened three times all of last year, and insider Sarah Langs notes that since 2015 there have been more than twice as many immaculate innings as three-pitch frames (it’s now dipped just under twice as many since she wrote that). Langs points out that, with strikeouts on the rise, achievements in that department have become more common than a feat that specifically requires you to not use enough pitches to strike anyone out.
The ironic part of all this is it wasn’t that great of an inning, as the Astros blasted the ball twice against Trivino. Tucker nearly went yard but watched his 102.5 mph blast fall harmlessly at 390 feet, within arm’s reach of the wall. Correa’s 107.3 mph liner is a hit 65% of the time according to Statcast, but this time it went right at a fielder. Diaz’s soft bloop was the only truly easy out.
The Astros ended the game tonight with a *three-pitch inning*— 2020 Astros Shame Tour (@AsteriskTour) September 8, 2020
And each out was caught by, who else, but Ramon Laureano pic.twitter.com/jCI0o1xddx
As an extra twist, all three were caught by Ramon Laureano in center field!
On the other hand, that’s exactly the value of inducing lots of contact. Even the biggest stars only turn it into a hit one-third of the time, and with a strong defense behind you and a bit of luck you can force the other team to make plays on offense. Some situations call for strikeouts, but other times it can be more efficient just to pound the zone and roll the dice on BABIP.
Houston was aggressive at the plate all night, and with a six-run lead Trivino challenged them with three pitches to swing at rather than nibbling and walking the bases loaded. Despite some hard contact, it worked, historically well.