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John E. Gibson

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Sledge hammers out win for Nippon Ham

by John E. Gibson (Apr 24, 2009)

Terrmel Sledge said the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters' solidarity is the reason for increased scoring this season.

Solid contact is a better explanation.

Sledge blasted a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to help Nippon Ham complete a 7-6 comeback win over the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Thursday to salvage the finale of a three-game Fighters home set at Tokyo Dome.

"Team unity is good--I don't know if that has anything to do with it," Sledge said about the Fighters, who lead Japan in team batting average (.312) and runs scored (108). "I don't know the language too good, but I know in the locker room the guys all get along."

The Fighters scrambled back from an early deficit to take the lead, then fell behind again 6-4 after six innings. But they came back to even the score and won it on Sledge's first walk-off homer in one-plus seasons in Japan.

"There's no greater feeling. I won't forget it," said Sledge, who slugged a no-doubter to right-center field off Tadashi Settsu to halt the Hawks' three-game winning streak.

"It was a hard forkball. The first pitch was the same one, he just threw it in the dirt. That one he just left a little bit up.

"It's good to get the win--they had gotten us in the first two games--and hopefully we can gain some momentum."

It was the second walk-off loss for Settsu (0-2), who fell to Chiba Lotte a week ago.

The Fighters, who took over the top spot in the Pacific League standings, grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third thanks to an error and a blown call.

Rookie Shota Ono opened the inning with a roller to short. Munenori Kawasaki's throw was in time, but Hiroki Kokubo dropped it for an error.

Hichori Morimoto doubled to center and Ono tried to score from first. The relay throw from Kawasaki was in plenty of time, but up the first-base line. Catcher Hidenori Tanoue grabbed it and dove back toward home plate to tag Ono's outstretched hand before it hit the plate. Plate umpire Norihiro Akimura, though, ruled Ono safe and Nippon Ham had a 1-0 lead.

SoftBank slugger Nobuhiko Matsunaka went deep for the second straight night, taking a hanging slider deep to right in the fourth with a man aboard to give the Hawks a short-lived lead.

In the bottom of the inning, though, Luis Jimenez took starter Keiji Otonari out the opposite way--his second longball in as many nights--for a three-run shot to put Nippon Ham back on top 4-2.

A bloop double by Hiroshi Shibahara and Satoru Morimoto's RBI single got the Hawks to within a run, and Kokubo sent a booming double to the gap in left center to plate two and put the Hawks back on top 5-4.

They added a run to make it 6-4, but pinch-hitter Tomochika Tsuboi tied it for the Fighters with a bases-loaded single in the seventh.


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