CHICAGO In the drizzly darkness and doom-and-gloom of Wrigley Field on Monday appeared a brilliant new star from the Land of the Rising Sun.
With the spotlight shining brightly on him, Kosuke Fukudome made a dramatic debut, driving in all of the Cubs' runs and producing more than half the hits in an otherwise forgettable 4-3, 10-inning loss to Milwaukee.
Fukodome became an instant fan favorite, answering a curtain call and finding himself leading all of baseball in batting average (1.000 on three hits) and on-base percentage (1.000, including a walk) after his first major-league game.
"I hope we don't start expecting that every day," teammate Derrek Lee said with a laugh.
"We now see he can play. You don't put up the numbers he did in Japan and not know what you're doing. Now he can relax. It's nice to get off to that good start and not put pressure on yourself."
Fukudome was as calm as if he had gone 0-for-4 while answering postgame questions in front of a specially prepared (and paid for) curtain with a Cubs logo and Japanese writing with English subtitles reading "Nippon Life Insurance."
"Being able to be received very well from the somewhat harsh fans I heard about was a pretty good day for me," he said through an interpreter. "I wish we could have won."
"What a great start for that young man," manager Lou Piniella said. "He was our whole offense."
That was almost literally true. The first Cubs' hit of the season was Fukudome's line-drive double over the head of center fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. in the second inning. He walked in the third inning and then singled for the second Cubs hit in the seventh.
But he saved his best for last.
With the Cubs losing 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth and with two runners on base, Fukudome smashed a pitch from veteran reliever Eric Gagne over the right-center-field wall.
"We were down three runs and I just wanted to get to the next hitter, and if I saw something I could pull, I was looking for it," he said. "It just happened to be a home run."
That ninth inning produced a special feeling at a ballpark that has been around for nearly a century.
As he approached the left-handed batter's box, the crowd chanted "FU-KO-DO-ME."
"I heard them," he said simply. "The game was still going on so it didn't really pump me up or anything like that."
Apparently neither did the ensuing curtain call, when Fukudome jumped from the dugout and doffed his cap. Nor did the special greetingcomplete with handmade bannersthat greeted him from fans in the right-field bleachers in the first inning.
It was a very unexpected opening for Fukudome, signed to a four-year, $48 million contract in the off-season, considering he hit only .270 with one homer and eight RBIs in 23 spring training games.
Asked if he had been holding back the good stuff for the start of the real season, Fukudome replied: "No, I wasn't."
"My approach was the same as spring training, but it is Opening Day so maybe there was mentally something extra there."
"You never know," Piniella said. "He's hit so well in his country, there's no reason to believe he was going to struggle here."
"He was a totally different guy than I saw in spring training," left fielder Alfonso Soriano said. "As he showed 1/8Monday 3/8, he's a very good hitter and I hope he continues to swing like he did."
So should all the Cubs, because he was the only one who looked like he had played before in a cold and wet Wrigley Field.
"I went through the same routine I always do," he said when asked about pregame jitters. "I was able to do what I was trying to do every at-bat, no matter where I am."