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Pirates making a habit of playing in memorable games

| Saturday, April 5, 2014, 10:20 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates players mob catcher Tony Sanchez (second from right) after his walk-off base hit in the 16th inning against the Cubs Wednesday, April 2, 2014, at PNC Park. It was the second straight extra inning game to open the 2014 season.

Over the course of 162 games in a regular season that stretches from March to October, bizarre things are going to happen. Freak plays. Fluke hits. Long delays. Extra innings that threaten to roll on until dawn. It's part of what makes baseball a simultaneously wonderful and awful sport.

The past few seasons, it seems the Pirates have had more than their share of oddities. In July 2011, umpire Jerry Meals blew a call at home plate and sent the Pirates to a 4-3 loss in 19 innings against the Atlanta Braves.

Thirteen months later, the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals were on the field for more than six hours in a 19-inning game.

On back-to-back days last season, the Pirates and Cardinals played a total of 26 innings to decide two games.

Those wild games were a topic of discussion in the clubhouse a few days ago as the clock ticked past midnight.

Players joined the conversation after they were taken out of the lineup in what became a 16-inning marathon between the Pirates and Chicago Cubs.

“It's such a long season and baseball is such a kooky sport that different things happen each night that you never thought you'd see happen,” reliever Tony Watson said. “It seems we have at least one extra-long game a year over the past three years. You never know when it's going to happen, and you never know what's going to happen in a game. Each night is a new experience.”

It is not always a smooth ride. Wednesday's game lasted 5 hours, 55 minutes — the longest baseball game ever in Pittsburgh — and most of the players didn't leave PNC Park until about 2 a.m.

Each team wasted a couple of great opportunities to win. The Cubs went 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position, the lone hit being Luis Valbuena's two-out RBI single that tied it in the ninth inning. The Pirates were 3 for 12 with RISP and somehow found a way to blow a bases-loaded, none-out chance in the 13th inning.

“When you get turned back, you find a way to push 'em back out there and keep going,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

As the backup catcher, Tony Sanchez knew he'd be the last man off the bench.

The Cubs used pitcher Travis Wood as a pinch-hitter in the 13th inning before finally giving in and sending second-string catcher John Baker to the plate in the 15th.

As he waited for a chance to play, Sanchez didn't merely sit around in the dugout.

“You ride the bike as much as possible,” he said. “You get in the (batting) cages. Take your swings, stay loose. Try to stay as warm as possible.”

In the end, Sanchez was the hero. He slapped the game-winning single into left field and briefly vanished beneath a dogpile at first base.

“There's no better situation to get the job done,” Sanchez said.

It was the first time since 1964 that the Pirates started the season with back-to-back extra-inning games and the first time in club history they opened with a pair of walkoff victories.

“Good teams find ways to win those games,” Watson said. “We've been on the good side of that the last couple of years. It's still a long season. Hopefully if we run into another situation down the road where we're playing 16 innings, we'll come out on top again. Those are fun games. People remember them.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for •Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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