Written by Fredrik

Modified & Updated: 30 May 2024

Sherman Smith

Reviewed by Sherman Smith

baseball players hitting

How long do baseball games last? To determine the answer, let us briefly explain how baseball works. First off, the goal for a team is to have more runs than the opponent. A run happens when a runner runs through three bases on the field in a counter-clockwise rotation before returning to the first (or home) base. Unlike most other team sports, baseball is not divided into timed periods like halves or quarters. Instead, it is divided into innings.

Table of Contents

How Many Innings Are in a Baseball Game?

There are nine innings in a professional baseball game. Each inning is divided into two halves: the top and the bottom. In a baseball game, the visiting team bats first, followed by the home team. For example, in a game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox that is held at Yankee Stadium in New York, the Red Sox bats first. Each inning ends when a team has three outs. An out happens if a batter gets three strikes (they are unable to hit the ball within three pitches or throws), if a hit ball is caught in the air, or if a base runner is tagged out.

As mentioned in the introduction, a team should aim to have more runs than the opposing team. The two teams bat over nine innings, and the team with the most runs after nine innings wins. If both teams have the same number of runs after nine innings, additional innings are played until, at the end of an extra inning, one team has more runs than the other. A game also ends when the home team is leading at the bottom (or second half) of the ninth inning, as the visiting team (the first team to bat) is unable to get more runs to even the score.

Some youth and amateur leagues play only seven innings instead of the full nine. Seven is also the number of innings in a typical softball game. Softball is related to baseball and is more commonly played by women in North America.

baseball pitcher throwing the curveball to the batter
Image from Adobe Stock

How Long Does A Major League Baseball Game Last?

Since games in Major League Baseball (MLB) do not have a time limit, they can theoretically last indefinitely. Games can be delayed due to rain-outs (when the field is unsuitable for play due to rain) or other factors. They can also take longer due to extra innings.

According to statistics, the average length of a baseball game during the 2021 season was three hours and 10 minutes long. This refers only to regulation games and does not include games that had extra innings.

As part of precautions against COVID-19, double-headers (two games played back-to-back on the same day) during the 2020 and 2021 seasons were limited to only seven innings per game. Single games continued to play for the full nine innings.

Unlike some minor leagues, MLB games do not have a pitch clock. We will discuss more about pitch clocks in the next section.

How Long Do Minor League Baseball Games Last?

Games in the minor leagues are largely played with similar rules as MLB. This means their games last around the same amount of time: approximately three hours. This is especially the case for the Triple-A leagues, the highest level of play in the minors.

The minor leagues are sometimes used as a “playground” for MLB to test new rules. For example, some minor leagues use a pitch clock, meaning the pitcher (the player throwing the baseball at the batter) must throw/pitch the ball within a certain amount of time. This is important, as how fast or slow the pitches can set the pace of the game. The slower the pitch, the longer a game can be. As of 2022, pitch clocks in the minor leagues are set at 14 seconds if there are no players on the bases, or 18 seconds if a base has a runner.

In addition to the pitch clock, some minor leagues have also experimented with various “sudden death” rules to ensure games end early in the event of extra innings.

How Long Do International Baseball Games Last?

Baseball is a popular sport worldwide, and it is not only played in North America but also in the rest of the Americas, as well as in Asia and even Europe. For the most part, international baseball games, including Olympic baseball games as well as games in the World Baseball Classic, are played with the same American rules.

One note about Asian baseball is that, in Japan and Korea, professional baseball games can end in a tie. Nippon Professional Baseball regular-season games last up to a maximum of 12 innings. If both teams have the same number of runs after 12 innings, the game is declared a draw. Playoff games instead last for up to 15 innings. This is partly because train systems in Japan mostly have limited operating hours. In Tokyo, for example, the metro runs until midnight. Thus, if a game lasts too long, spectators may miss the last trains going home. Similar rules exist in Korean baseball.

Baseball player throws the ball on professional baseball stadium
Image from Adobe Stock

What is the Mercy Rule?

In amateur and youth baseball, the mercy rule is applied when one team has a much higher score than the other. For example, one team has ten runs more than the other. In such cases, the game can be ended early even if the full number of innings has not been played. While the rule is sometimes applied in amateur and youth leagues, it is not used in professional leagues.

What is the Longest Baseball Game?

According to Major League Baseball’s official website, the longest MLB game in terms of the number of innings is a game between the Brooklyn Robins (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves) in 1920. The game lasted a whopping 26 innings. Surprisingly, the game only lasted less than four hours. It ended with a 1-1 tie as the game could not be continued due to darkness.

In terms of the total length of time, the record for the longest game belongs to a 1984 game between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers. The two teams first played for 17 innings before the game suspended at 1 a.m. The game continued the following day, with the White Sox winning over the Brewers 7-6 after 25 innings.

The longest professional game ever was a 1981 match between the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox (now the Worcester Red Sox). Also known as the “Longest Game”, it took over two days to complete. The Red Sox ultimately prevailed over the Red Wings 3-2 after 33 innings.

Was this page helpful?

Our commitment to delivering trustworthy and engaging content is at the heart of what we do. Each fact on our site is contributed by real users like you, bringing a wealth of diverse insights and information. To ensure the highest standards of accuracy and reliability, our dedicated editors meticulously review each submission. This process guarantees that the facts we share are not only fascinating but also credible. Trust in our commitment to quality and authenticity as you explore and learn with us.