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Fukudome debut spoiled by Cubs' loss to Brewers
When Kosuke Fukudome hit a three-run homer off Milwaukee closer Eric Gagne to tie the season opener in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday, fans all over Wrigley Field held up professionally made signs with English words on one side and Japanese on the other.
It was meant to be a two-sided version of the phrase "It's Gonna Happen." But something got lost in translation, and the Japanese side read: "It's An Accident."
Fukudome's heroics were no accident, but they wound up going to waste when Tony Gwynn Jr. hit a sacrifice fly off Bob Howry in the 10th to lift the Brewers to a 4-3 victory on a long, soggy afternoon.
"It was a good ballgame," manager Lou Piniella said. "It was well-played, tough conditions. But somebody had to win, somebody had to lose, and they won the ballgame."
Fukudome went 3-for-3 with a walk. He doubled to the center-field wall on the first major-league pitch he saw and earned salaams from fans in the right-field bleachers for his stunning debut.
But the day was a total downer for Carlos Zambrano, who remains winless in four Opening Day starts and left in the seventh inning with forearm cramps. And for Kerry Wood, who allowed three runs in the ninth in his debut as the Cubs' closer.
A scoreless duel between Zambrano and Ben Sheets picked up in intensity with one out in the seventh when Zambrano picked off Bill Hall at second base. Zambrano then began shaking his arm and pulling at his fingers. Cramps forced his exit.
Carlos Marmol struck out three of the four hitters he faced before Wood entered in the ninth and hit Rickie Weeks with his first pitch.
Weeks advanced on Gwynn's sacrifice, forcing Piniella and Wood to decide whether to pitch to Prince Fielder with first base open. After a short conference on the mound, Wood intentionally walked Fielder but then surrendered a broken-bat single to Ryan Braun, giving the Brewers the lead.
"What can you do?" Piniella said. "We tried to set up the double play, but it didn't work."
One out later, Corey Hart went the other way on a 3-1 pitch and deposited one into the right-field corner for a two-run double, prompting many to leave, as there had been two rain delays.
Those who stayed were rewarded with a comeback that rivaled the delirium of Willie Smith's game-winning home run on Opening Day in 1969. Derrek Lee singled off Gagne and Aramis Ramirez walked, leading to Fukudome's blast to right-center on a 3-1 pitch.
Was Fukudome playing rope-a-dope this spring with his mediocre performance?
"My approach was the same as spring training," he said through an interpreter. "But it is Opening Day, so maybe there was something mentally extra there."
Lee said he wasn't surprised by Fukudome's turnaround. "He might've been setting [pitchers] up," Lee said. "He might be smarter than we think."
The Cubs continued to make noise when Felix Pie beat out a grounder to Fielder at first to put the winning run on, but Mike Fontenot grounded out to send the game into extra innings, where Milwaukee put a stake in the Cubs' heart.
Craig Counsell's leadoff double off Howry put the go-ahead run on, and Gwynn's fly to deep center brought him home moments later.
"I came out of spring throwing the ball much better than I have at the beginning in two, three, four years," Howry said. "It has nothing to do with [early-season] struggles [in the past]. It's one game. It's a long year."