By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- The Strasburg Express never feels like it's out of a game, no matter how large the deficit. But being no-hit through five innings while trailing by six runs? That's pushing it.
Somehow, some way, that didn't stop the Express from chugging along on Wednesday night against the Winchester Royals at Bridgeforth Field. Strasburg overcame the Royals' six-run lead, little by little, and Joe Camp's RBI single in the top of the 10th inning helped send the Express to a 10-8 victory, its third straight win.
"A six-run [deficit] to us is like a one or two run [deficit], that's just the way we've been playing. ... But [down] 8-2, and the way that we were doing it, we were getting no-hit through the first six innings, that's 100-percent completely all them," Express manager Ben Moore said. "Pinch hits, guys coming out of the bullpen, guys sitting on the bench all day, two-out hits, baserunning -- that's probably the biggest team win we've ever had.
"I'll tell you what," he added, "that's probably the ugliest win I've ever had in my entire life."
Strasburg (20-20), which put a stranglehold on a playoff berth with Wednesday's win, carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning despite not recording a hit off Winchester (14-25) starting pitcher Tyler Gibson.
The Royals then erupted for seven runs in the fourth inning to take an 8-2 lead, and it seemed like far too much ground to make up for Strasburg's sputtering offense. But the Express responded by scoring four runs in the sixth inning, one run each in the eighth and ninth and two in the 10th to escape with the win.
The Express finished with nine hits, five of which came in the ninth and 10th innings.
"We just have a good time here. No one was worrying when we didn't have a hit. No one even thought we were going to lose the entire game," said Express outfielder Sky Overton, who was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs. "It's fun, it's relaxed and we all just try to win, come out and do our best."
Strasburg's offensive fortunes began turning in the sixth inning. Gibson, who struggled to rein in his command all evening, dealt a walk to Express first baseman Luke Wurzelbacher -- who was hit by a pitch three times on Wednesday and scored four runs -- and hit Dustin Woody in the helmet with a pitch to put two runners on to lead off the top of the sixth.
William Pozo came on in relief of Gibson and walked the first batter he faced, and Strasburg's Jose Bonilla delivered the first hit for the Express with a one-out chopper that snuck through the right side of the infield to plate Wurzelbacher.
Overton and Jay Lizanich followed with back-to-back bases-loaded walks to score a pair of runs and Kevin Baron's RBI sacrifice fly cut Winchester's lead to 8-6.
Royals pitchers combined to allow 11 walks while hitting five batters, and they also uncorked five wild pitches. Gibson, who didn't allow a hit in his five-plus innings, issued seven walks and hit three batters.
Overton trimmed Winchester's lead to 8-7 in the top of the eighth when he hit a solo homer down the left-field line on an 0-1 pitch from Royals reliever Brandon Valentine.
"Just look for something I can drive. Just look for something that I know if I put I swing on I'm going to do damage with it," Overton said of his approach. "To be honest he just gave me pitches I could handle. Maybe another spot I don't do it, but luck had a part in it. But it was fun. I just felt relaxed and felt confident."
Overton tied the game in the ninth inning, as he capped a two-out rally with Strasburg's third straight single to plate John Brocious, who began the surge with a soft lining single to left field.
Camp came through with another clutch two-out hit for the Express in the 10th, as he smacked an RBI single to right-center that scored Wurzelbacher to give Strasburg a 9-8 lead. An error on a pickoff attempt by Royals reliever Jackson Berumen allowed Woody to score for an important insurance run.
Sean Stephenson held off the Royals in the bottom of the 10th to pick up his fourth save.
Strasburg starting pitcher David Hafer lasted just 3 2/3 innings on Wednesday, as he couldn't halt Winchester's two-out rally in the fourth inning. Six straight Royals reached base with two outs off Hafer in the fourth before he was pulled in favor of Chase Wissman.
Wissman, Hunter Abbe and Stephenson combined to throw 6 1/3 shutout innings while limiting the Royals to just three hits after the fourth inning.
"In recent games we've had unbelievable starts and then we'll be kind of iffy in the bullpen," Moore said. "... Today we had a bad start and we had a superb bullpen. So it was nice to see those guys come out and succeed and do what they did and pick up Hafer right there."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org