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Sledge’s slam shocks Eagles

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo News

SAPPORO — Terrmel Sledge hit a walk-off grand slam with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Nippon Ham Fighters to a 9-8 victory over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Game 1 of the Pacific League Climax Series second stage on Wednesday.

The Fighters, who were given a one-win advantage after finishing the regular season in first place, improved to 2-0 in the series and can clinch a spot in the Japan Series with two more wins.

Nippon Ham battled back to score eight runs in the final two frames, including five in a dramatic ninth in front of 38,235 cheering fans at Sapporo Dome.

Atsunori Inaba had an RBI single that made it 8-5 and just when all appeared lost, Sledge hammered a 0-1 fastball by Kazuo Fukumori (0-1) over the left-field wall for the walkoff win.

Takeshi Yamasaki and Teppei Tsuchiya hit a bases-clearing double and two-run homer for Rakuten, respectively, but the Eagles shot themselves down with lackluster pitching in the late innings.

It was their first loss in the playoffs.

Daisuke Kusano gave Rakuten a 2-1 lead with a sacrifice fly in the fourth, which also featured Todd Linden’s RBI single. Yamasaki doubled in three runs in the seventh and Tsuchiya’s two-run homer made it 8-4 in the top of the ninth.

But the wheels started coming off for Rakuten in the eighth when Nippon Ham strung together four consecutive hits and capitalized on two wild pitches to score three runs.