04/05/08 6:25 PM ET
Fukudome delivers in the clutch
Rookie quickly becoming fan favorite at Wrigley Field
By Jon Greenberg / Special to MLB.com
Fouling off pitches and seemingly marking his prey, Fukudome lined a double into left field, bringing home the go-ahead runs in a five-run seventh that sent the Cubs to a 9-7 win over the Astros on Saturday.
After only five games, Fukudome's status among Cubs fans sits somewhere between Ernie Banks and sunshine. His reputation in Chicago is Obama-esque. If he has a good road trip, fans might commission a statue of him, apostrophes and all, by the time he gets back. A good month and Nippon Life Insurance (his personal press conference sponsor) might want to think about naming rights to Wrigley. But let's not get carried away or anything. One thing's for sure -- he's been a great addition.
"He's been our spark," said Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, who broke out of a mini-slump with a 4-for-4 day that included his second home run. "He's been there every day for us. The crowd's feeding off it and we're feeding off it. He's great for us right now."
If it seems like Fukudome (8-for-16 with five RBIs this season) has been a part of every positive Cubs play so far, it's true, and Saturday was no different. He put down a perfect bunt single in the sixth that led to a Lee run, and broke the tie in the seventh in a lefty-lefty matchup against reliever Wesley Wright. The right fielder also had a nice running catch of a Miguel Tejada liner in the sixth that saved at least one run.
"You can tell he's been taught the fundamentals of the game to a tee," Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa said. "But a lot of that goes out the window. I say he's just so talented. He was sandbagging us in Spring Training."
The Cubs trailed, 5-3, going into the bottom of the seventh. Astros starter Roy Oswalt walked Ryan Theriot, and Ronny Cedeno had a pinch-hit single. Alfonso Soriano, now mired in a 1-for-22 start to the season, moved them over with a groundout, and Reed Johnson scred Theriot with another grounder.
Lee singled home Cedeno and ended Oswalt's day. Oscar Villarreal walked Aramis Ramirez, and Wright came in to face Fukudome, who worked the count and dropped a hit in front of a diving Carlos Lee in left.
"I came in and wanted to go right at him," Wright said. "I felt I made some good pitches, borderline pitches, but I fell behind, 3-1. I just tried to come back and get back into the count. Got to 3-2 and he fouled some pitches off. I tried to go away again, left it up more than I would have liked to. He got a little bit of the barrel on it and sliced it in there in front of Carlos."
DeRosa added an RBI double in the inning to make it 8-5.
Fukudome's Ichiro-like bunt in the sixth got rave reviews. It wasn't a scripted play, but with Derrek Lee at second and Ty Wigginton backed up at third, he saw an opportunity.
"When I started my pro career in Japan, I bunted a few times," he said through his interpreter, Ryuji Araki. "Recently, I haven't had too many chances to use it, but I had the thought in my head to try one."
Kevin Hart (1-0) worked 1 2/3 scoreless innings to get his first Major League victory. Bob Howry nearly lost the lead in the eighth, when the Astros tagged him for three hits and two runs, but Carlos Marmol relieved him and got two outs. Kerry Wood worked a perfect ninth for his second save.
"One thing we need to do is get Howry going," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Get him some more work and get him sharp. He's a big part of the bullpen."
Jason Marquis got away with a no-decision in a spotty start. He gave up five runs (four earned) in 5 1/3 innings. Marquis allowed eight hits, and the leadoff hitter scored in four of the six innings he started. He did rip an RBI double to right in the second, scoring Geovany Soto, who tripled. But he also got caught trying on his own to tag up to third on a flyout to Michael Bourn in center with one out.
"I've used him as a pinch-runner once in a while, and I think he got carried away," Piniella said. "All it is, is trying to do too much -- nothing more, nothing less."
Jon Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.