03/31/08 10:30 PM ET
What an entrance: Fukudome arrives
Outfielder goes 3-for-3, including game-tying three-run homer
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
The crowd of 41,089 at Wrigley Field for Monday's season opener chanted the Japanese outfielder's name as he stepped to the plate in the ninth. The Cubs trailed, 3-0, had two on and none out against Milwaukee's Eric Gagne.
Fukudome was ahead, 3-0, and took a strike. He then launched his first Major League home run into the right-field bleachers to tie the game and notch his third hit in his Cubs debut. Unfortunately, the Brewers spoiled his day by rallying to post a 4-3 win in 10 innings.
In his first game in the Major Leagues, Fukudome notched his first homer, his first RBI, his first double (in his first at-bat in the second), his first walk (in the fourth) and his first single (in the seventh). He's batting 1.000.
So much for needing time to make the transition from Japan to the Major Leagues.
"What a way to get it started," Chicago's Ryan Theriot said. "He looked real comfortable, and you could see it there in Spring Training. If we get some guys on base for him, we're in good shape."
Fans in the right-field bleachers greeted the soft-spoken outfielder by waving Japanese flags and holding up signs spelling his name.
"Being able to be received very well from the somewhat harsh fans I've heard about was a pretty good day for me," said Fukudome, who apparently has talked to some ex-Cubs. "We lost the game -- I wish we could've won."
A key acquisition this offseason, Fukudome finished tied with Jim Thome for the Major League lead in walks this spring, with 15. The Japanese outfielder posted a .415 on-base percentage and also batted .333 with runners in scoring position. Those were all good signs.
"The ball jumps off his bat, so you know he has power," Chicago first baseman Derrek Lee said. "He definitely showed it today in the right situation."
Fukudome said he didn't change his approach now that the games count.
"My approach was the same as Spring Training, but it is Opening Day, so maybe there was mentally something extra there," he said through interpreter Ryuji Araki.
"He's hit so well in his country, there's no reason to assume or believe he's going to struggle here," Piniella said.
The Brewers had scouted Fukudome, but he surprised them.
"We still don't have that kid figured out," Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. "We thought we did, a little bit, but he changed his approach today compared to the times we saw him in Spring Training. He was a different hitter today. We kind of have to go back to the drawing board on this guy."
Was Fukudome hiding something this spring?
"I don't know," Yost said. "He's an awful smart player if he was, because we thought we had him figured out. He was totally different in his approach. We'll look at it."
It was Opening Day, his first game in the Major Leagues. Wasn't Fukudome nervous?
"I went through the same routine I always do," he said, "and I think I was able to do what I'm trying to do every at-bat, no matter where I am."
That's good news for the Cubs.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.