By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Right fielder George Smith drove in Strasburg's go-ahead and eventual winning run with two outs in seventh inning, and threw out a Rockbridge runner at the plate for the third out in the sixth as the Express prevailed, 9-8, in a wild affair Wednesday night at First Bank Park.
Strasburg (6-10), despite banging out 15 hits, came in off an exhausting 12-11, 10-inning loss to North Division leader Winchester on Tuesday night.
Smith, from LaSalle, went 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run scored for Strasburg.
"This is a great win -- a great team win," Smith said. "We just wanted to come out here and win it for our fans. We didn't give up at all. The putout at the plate was a one-hopper. We're gonna take this to the next game, and one game at a time."
The Express didn't appear to have any hangover from Tuesday's game in jumping out to a four-run lead in the first inning as, with two outs, Boyd Jackson spanked an RBI infield single, followed by Ryan Welling's two-run single to left. The fourth run scored on an error by left fielder Garrett Furr as he let Welling's single dribble past him.
Strasburg's lead evaporated in the next inning as the Rapids sent 11 batters to the plate and scored five runs on four hits, including three which didn't leave the infield, and two Strasburg errors to take a 5-4 lead.
Designated hitter Cody Dolan (2-for-5, two RBIs, two runs) drove in two runs during the uprising.
Strasburg responded with a run in the bottom of the frame to create a 5-5 tie, which stayed that way until the sixth, when Rockbridge (7-8) picked up a run and added two in sixth to take an 8-5 lead.
But the never-say-die Express somehow found a way to score four runs in the bottom of the seventh, taking the 9-8 lead on Smith's RBI single.
Rockbridge pitchers gave up two of their eight walks in the seventh, and eight of the Rapids' 15 hits didn't get out of the infield in the wacky contest.
Even though Strasburg reliever Matt Verdillo (1-2) gave up the two Rockbridge runs in the seventh and retired the first two batters in the eighth, he picked up the win due to the timing of Strasburg's four-run rally.
Matt Solter relieved Verdillo and retired the four batters he faced to pick up his second save.
Brandon Thigpen (2-for-4, double) bashed his second homer of the year, a solo shot far over the advertising sign just left of center, in the sixth.
In addition to Smith, Billy Motroni was 2-for-4 with three runs and an RBI for the Express.
Second baseman Chandler Smetana wielded Rockbridge's best bat, with a 3-for-6 effort and two RBIs.
"It was crazy," Express manager Butch Barnes said. "Like I told somebody before the game, we just gotta come out and compete every day and the chips fall where they're gonna fall. Tonight, we were just on the lucky side.
"We let [the Winchester game] get away from us. Tonight we got OK pitching and a really good relief job from Will Brown (four innings of relief) because our bullpen was pretty much shot after last night. And of course Matt Solter came in and closed the door for us. We haven't had any days off."
It was Strasburg's first inter-divisional game of the season, the first of a five-game stretch against South Division teams.