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Call Him Sledge Hammer

Padres outfielder delivers in a pinch, as Dodgers are latest to learn

September 18, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Things have a funny way of working out for Terrmel Sledge.

The outfielder transferred from Cal State Northridge nearly a decade ago when it appeared that the school was shutting down its baseball program, and wound up playing for a Long Beach State team that advanced to the College World Series.

He spent his first two major league seasons with the dreadful Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals organization, before mercifully being shipped to the San Diego Padres in January as part of a six-player trade.

He amassed plenty of frequent-flier miles this season shuttling between San Diego and triple-A Portland, until a spot on the Padres' roster was finally secured by a September call-up.

And in the biggest game of his career, against the team he grew up adoring, Sledge delivered the winning hit, a run-scoring, pinch-hit single in the ninth inning Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium that lifted the Padres to a 2-1 victory.

"It couldn't be much sweeter than this," said Sledge, who has played in only 31 games with the Padres this season. "I'm trying to live in the moment."

Sledge has had a few to remember recently, having hit a ninth-inning homer July 23 to tie a game against San Francisco that the Padres eventually won in the 12th inning.

That victory stopped a four-game losing streak and propelled San Diego to a four-game winning streak.

Sledge's heroics Sunday moved the Padres into first place in the National League West for the first time since Aug. 9 and improved his already sterling stature as a pinch-hitter; he's hitting .500 in eight at-bats, with five walks.

"He does a great job off the bench," said San Diego Manager Bruce Bochy, who opted for Sledge against Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton, instead of future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. "He's got some big hits for us."

Sledge had faced Broxton on Friday and struck out after being baffled by a slider he described as "one of the best in the game."

"He threw me three or four of them and I couldn't pull the trigger," Sledge said of Friday's at-bat.

"I just had it in the back of my head this time that I wasn't going to let the slider beat me."

On Sunday, with two on and one out in the ninth, Sledge took the first pitch from Broxton, a fastball away, for ball one. He swung at another fastball and fouled it off for strike one. Then Broxton elevated a slider that Sledge grounded sharply through the right side of the infield, scoring pinch-runner Khalil Greene from second base with the go-ahead run.

His biggest hit of the season?

"I don't know. I'll leave that up to you guys," said Sledge, who is hitting .250 overall with two homers and seven runs batted in. "I would say the San Francisco one because it turned our season around and put us on a winning streak."

Sledge, 29, grew up in Granada Hills and attended enough Dodgers games to recognize even the more obscure names Saturday when the 1981 World Series champions were introduced during a pregame ceremony.

"It's my hometown team," Sledge said. "I just play on a different team. I'm a San Diego Padre."

He's also a Valencia resident who had an especially enjoyable drive home Sunday after continuing his habit of making the best of every situation.

"I guess we all have to look at it that way," Sledge said. "I can't turn back the clock. I'm trying to live in the moment and look for the positive."

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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