This is the Pacific Coast League, however, and no lead is ever really safe. The Isotopes scored six runs in the sixth inning and two more in the eighth to eventually tie the game 8-8.
Unfortunately, the Express had one last rally left, scoring seven runs in the ninth to prevail 15-8. Kensuke Tanaka's grand slam was the biggest hit in the final onslaught.
"It's just one of those ballgames where it's kind of a tough loss," manager Damon Berryhill said. "You do battle back and you end up tying the ballgame and you give yourself a chance to win it. Then it kind of fell apart in the ninth for us.
"But I'm proud of the guys offensively, the way they battled back and stuck with the ballgame. Usually when you get down seven early like that it's easy to quit and just go through the motions."
Trayvon Robinson and Walter Ibarra led off the eighth with back-to-back singles. Robinson went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error by catcher Brett Nicholas.
Three batters later, Alex Liddi walked and two more wild pitches enabled Ibarra to score the tying run. Mike Baxter also walked, but Johnny Monell struck out with the go-ahead run at third.
Then came the disaster in the ninth, as Colt Hynes (0-3) gave up a one-out triple to Brent Lillibridge and then an RBI single to Jared Hoying that put Round Rock (30-36) back ahead. Hynes was pulled in favor of Yimi Garcia, but the right-hander was not his usual sharp self.
Garcia gave up back-to-back singles to load the bases and then hit Josh Wilson with a pitch to force in a run. Tanaka followed with his grand slam down the right field line and Nicholas would later add an RBI single.
"The major problem was he just fell behind (in the count)," Berryhill said of Garcia. "Then it was just elevated in the zone a little bit. You can't continually be elevated at this level. It doesn't really matter how hard you throw if you're mid-thigh or middle of the plate the majority of the time you're going to get hit.
"That's just what happened to Yimi tonight. He's been solid for us all year. He'll bounce back from this and he'll get the ball again and go to work."
Albuquerque (30-36) dropped its third straight game in the series. Carlos Frias gave up seven runs, four earned, in the first two innings before settling down and shutting out the Express for the next four.
"We didn't help Carlos defensively," Berryhill said as the Isotopes made two costly errors in the first inning. "First and second were tough innings for us. Carlos settled down after that and gave us four decent innings."
That set up the first Albuquerque outburst in the sixth, with RBI singles by Baxter and Monell, followed by Griff Erickson's three-run homer to left. Ibarra would later add an RBI single to pull the Isotopes within 7-6.
Jason Donald hit a solo homer in the eighth off Pedro Baez that gave Round Rock a two-run cushion. Hynes bailed Albuquerque out of a two-on, two-out situation later that inning by striking out Bryan Petersen.
"Offensively it took us a while to get going, but I thought the approaches were much better today," Berryhill said. "We stayed more middle of the field today and it paid off offensively. We ended up with 18 hits."
The Isotopes and Express will finish their series Thursday at 7:05 p.m. Right-hander Red Patterson (3-5, 4.30 ERA) will try to keep Albuquerque from being swept, while Round Rock will counter with right-hander Daniel McCutchen (1-5, 7.80).