ST. LOUIS – Nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts. That’s a rare baseball feat called an immaculate inning, and St. Louis Cardinals closer Ryan Helsley accomplished that Friday night.
Helsley struck out Reds hitters Kyle Farmer, Jake Fraley and Donovan Solano in the ninth inning of the Cardinals’ 6-5 win Friday night, needing only three strikes to retire each victim.
For an immaculate inning, a pitcher can include a combination of swinging or non-swinging strikeouts and foul balls as long as the pitcher uses the minimum possible nine pitches to record three strikeouts.
Helsely conquered the challenge behind seven swinging strikes, one non-swinging strike and one foul ball. He also clocked 100 miles per hour on three of his fastballs and fired every pitch at speeds of at least 90 miles per hour, including his offspeed slider.
“I’ve never been a part of it,” said Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt after the game. “To come out and get the first guy that was nice. Second guy, it was ‘Alright, we got a chance.’ Great job by him.”
The heroics came on top of much-anticipated heroics earlier in the game when Albert Pujols blasted his 698th home run to gain ground on his pursuit for 700 career blasts.
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The immaculate inning is only the third in Cardinals history. Closer Jason Isringhausen last helped St. Louis accomplish the feat in 2022. Cardinals all-time wins leader Bob Gibson is the only other Cardinals hurler to toss an immaculate inning, making it happen in 1969.
Helsley’s immaculate inning is somewhere between the 108th and 110th in MLB history, though the exact number varies between baseball historians. The immaculate inning has proved a bit more common in a era where strikeouts have risen. Helsley’s is one of 43 since 2010 and one of five in MLB this season.
It all happened weeks after the Cardinals tested a new way to intimidate opponents behind Helsley. In three home save situations since Sept. 6, the Cardinals signaled Helsley by turning off the main headlights at Busch Stadium and blasting AC/DC rock classic “Hells Bells” on the Busch Stadium speakers while also glaring a bright red neon light on the scoreboard.
The 28-year-old Helsley has also enjoyed a 9-1 record, 1.21 ERA, 18 saves and 87 strikeouts over 59.1 innings this season, earning his first All-Star selection in the process. In recent weeks, the Cardinals have turned to him in the ninth inning with former closer Giovanny Gallegos patrolling the eighth to set up a save situation.
“You feel good about shortening the game,” said Cardinals manager Oli Marmol with the back-end bullpen combination of Helsley and Gallegos. “You’re winning through seven, to go to eight and nine there is pretty powerful. We feel good about it.”
Helsley and the Cardinals turn the page to a doubleheader Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds with a 85-60 record and a magic number of 11 for the NL Central division crown.