A baseball game lasts nine innings.
Try telling that to the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.
Eight games into the season, the Pirates have already played four extra-inning games, winning two of them.
Begin with a 12-inning circus on Opening Day in Atlanta, add a 10-inning affair three days later, plus the first two home games against the Chicago Cubs this week, and you have a whole extra game added to the Pirates season.
We should have known on Opening Day that it would be an extra-special season. The Pirates blew a five-run lead in the ninth against the Braves, with the help of a can-o-corn fly ball that dropped in between Jason Bay and Nate McLouth as neither called for it.
After pulling ahead again 12-9 in the top of the 12th, the Bucs almost squandered their lead again before narrowly escaping, 12-11, in just a shade under four and a half hours.
Then, last Thursday, the Pirates took a 3-3 ballgame into extras against those same Braves before prevailing on a Xavier Nady single in the 10th. That put the Pirates at 2-1, and Xavier Nady at two game-winning hits on the season.
The weekend was calm in South Florida, as the Pirates played an entire series without taking a game to extra innings. Friday's game threatened to give the fans free baseball, but Mike Jacobs hit a walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
As if one crazy Opening Day game full of comebacks and 12 innings wasn't enough, the Pirates had to create similar drama in their home opener on Monday against the Cubs. After falling behind 7-0 after three innings, they battled back to tie the game at eight and send it to extras. More free baseball!
That game trudged through three more innings before the Cubs finally cashed in on an opportunity and plated two runs in the 12th to win 10-8.
If you're scoring at home, that's seven extra innings played by the Pirates in seven games.
But wait, there's more.
Wednesday night, the Pirates played 15 innings against the Cubs to extend their league-leading season total to thirteen bonus baseball innings.
At least they're leading the league in something.
At this rate, the Pirates will play 81 extra inning games this season, shattering the Major League record of 31 extra inning games set by the 1943 Boston Red Sox.
They're also already two-fifths of the way toward tying the 1908 Detroit Tigers for most consecutive extra inning games played at five.
Of course, they probably will not challenge the Tigers' record, and time will tell if the Red Sox record will be realistically in sight.
But for now, the Pirates are giving Pittsburgh fans what they deserve after fifteen lousy seasons: free baseball.
Speaking of which, are the players getting compensated for all the extra time they are putting in? The bullpen has been especially involved in all the extra inning affairs. With the Pirates' miniscule payroll budget, they will probably go bankrupt by midseason if they have to pay time and a half to all the coaches and players every other game.
They're also providing competitive baseball. Although some of this season's excitement has been a result of poor relief pitching, some of it is also a case of the Pirates never giving up on a game and fighting until the last out.
For the record, the Pirates are 2-2 in extra inning games so far. And they are 3-5 overall, which is less than impressive. There are obvious problems with this team, and they will not be contenders this season.
But the early indication is that the Pirates will be in games. They will have a chance to win the game most nights. And although a contending team is the ultimate goal, being competitive is at least a start towards gaining more fan support.
Then again, will fans have the time and ice cold nerves to last through all these extra innings?
Perhaps Pirate baseball is on the way to being fun again, even if it means more Pittsburghers missing their bed time.
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