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Monday, April 18, 2011

NPB NOTEBOOK

Sledge leading charge for surprise-package BayStars


Staff writer

The Yokohama BayStars lost 95 games last season and it seemed like everybody in Japanese baseball got their licks in against the struggling team.

News photo
New attitude: Terrmel Sledge wants to help the BayStars avoid a repeat of last season's 95-loss debacle. KYODO

This year, slugger Terrmel Sledge is helping the 'Stars hit back.

Sledge is off to a scorching start to the season as Yokohama begins its quest to change the culture of losing that has permeated the franchise for the last few years.

"Everybody spent the offseason sick of losing," Sledge said after the BayStars rallied from a four-run deficit in the eighth to earn a 6-6 tie on the road against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on Saturday.

"Everyone plays Yokohama and thinks it's going to be an easy win," Sledge continued. "We're going to fight on both sides of the ball. Whether it's pitching, defense or hitting, we're not giving up."

Sledge has been on fire to start the season for Yokohama. Through six games he's hitting .375 and has five homers and 13 RBIs

"I've refocused myself," Sledge said. "This is my second year in the (Central) league also. I finally feel like myself after a major injury back in the States. I tore my hamstring off the bone and I haven't felt the same in the last five years."

Sledge says the culture in the Yokohama dugout is different this year.

Whereas the team seemed to resign itself to losing last season, this year's BayStars expect to win every time out.

"This spring felt like last spring," Sledge said. "But this season definitely feels different than last season."

End of an era: Tomoaki Kanemoto entered the Hanshin Tigers' game against the Chunichi Dragons as a pinch hitter with two outs in the eighth inning on Friday at Nagoya Dome.

With Shunsuke Fujikawa on first, Kanemoto took a 1-0 fastball for a strike and catcher Motonobu Tanishige came up throwing to nail Fujikawa trying to steal second, which ended the inning

Kanemoto did not take the field in the ninth and when the game ended, one of baseball's most impressive streaks ended with it.

Friday marked the end of Kanemoto's consecutive games streak, during which the outfielder had appreared in 1,766 straight games for the Hiroshima Carp and the Tigers.

That's good for second all-time behind the Tetsujin, Carp great Sachio Kinugasa, who played in 2,215 straight.

NPB rules state a player must complete an at-bat or play one inning in the field to be credited with a game played.

Milestone hit: Before Kanemoto's record went by the wayside, Dragons third baseman Masahiko Morino reached a milestone in the same game, recording his 1,000th hit with a single in the sixth inning.

Flipping the script: The Yokohama BayStars took two of three games from the defending Central League champion Chunichi Dragons to open the season.

It's an innocuous thing to hang your hat on in an 144-game season, but it represented the first time in 11 seasons that Yokohama has won its season-opening series.

Considering the BayStars, who are playing extremely well to start the year, have had four "A-Class" finishes and seven last-place finishes since winning the Japan Series in 1998, any good news is great news.

First time for everything: Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder Yoshifumi Okada started in the outfield and at the top of the order for the defending Japan Series champions on Tuesday against the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

That made him the first player taken in an ikusei draft (developmental draft) to start on Opening Day in Pacific League history.

Okada, who drove in the winning run in Game 7 of the Japan Series last season, was chosen in the 2008 ikusei draft.

Get that pitcher a bat: Having gone to a high school that used a designated hitter, Clayton Hamilton hasn't had much opportunity to pick up a bat (just three high school at-bats). The Yokohama BayStars pitcher got his first opportunity in Japan on Wednesday and recorded the first strikeout of his career in the batter's box.

Kenichi Nakata rung him up in the fourth inning of the Dragons' 8-7 win. Still, NPB pitchers be wary: Hamilton's last high school at-bat was a bloop single over the shortstop.



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