“Would I change my situation by getting angry? I don’t think so,” Fukudome said. “I’m just going to keep working for my opportunities. And when I get an opportunity, I just need to do my job.”
He did just that Thursday, singling as a pinch-hitter to start the tying rally in the eighth inning and then driving home the winning run in the ninth as Chicago defeated the Oakland Athletics 3-2.
The former Japan League star was an immediate smash with the Cubs in 2008 after signing a four-year, $48 million contract. But a blazing April led to a mediocre May and then it got worse each month after—all the way down to .178 in September.
The pattern repeated last season. And it was happening again this year; he batted .344 in April and .253 in May, and he took a .214 June average into Thursday’s game.
Piniella had seen enough. The manager started Fukudome in right field only four times in the last 12 games—and in none of the last five, going with a platoon of Xavier Nady(notes) and rookie Tyler Colvin(notes).
“It has no relationship to my past,” Fukudome, speaking through an interpreter, said when asked if he was frustrated to lose his job after his stellar history in Japan. “If the manager decides to do it this way, all I can do is work hard. Because getting angry wouldn’t make any difference.”
With one out in the eighth and the Cubs trailing 2-1, Fukudome singled off Michael Wuertz(notes). Marlon Byrd(notes) singled and Derrek Lee(notes) walked before Nady tied it with a sacrifice fly off closer Andrew Bailey(notes).
After Cubs closer Carlos Marmol(notes) (2-1) escaped a first-and-third, one-out situation in the top of the ninth, Jerry Blevins(notes) (2-1) opened the bottom of the inning by walking Geovany Soto(notes).
Starlin Castro(notes) sacrificed, pinch-hitter Koyie Hill(notes) was intentionally walked and Ryan Theriot(notes) walked to load the bases. On the next pitch, Fukudome singled through a drawn-in infield to give the Cubs their first series victory since late May and their first winning streak of any length since they took three in a row from May 22-25.
“I didn’t do the job, simple as that,” said Blevins after the A’s lost their fifth in six games to fall two games under .500, matching their low-water mark this season.
“It’s heartbreaking when your team fights to come back … and then you basically lose a game yourself. It’s embarrassing.”
Braden, who allowed one run on five hits in six innings, is 0-4 in his last seven starts. The A’s have scored two runs or fewer in six of those outings.
The left-hander was able to throw only 83 pitches due to stiffness in his elbow, which has bothered him for two weeks. He vowed to make his next start in five days and said he was pleased with his outing “considering what I’ve been battling.”
“Physically, I was at the end of the rope,” said Braden, who retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. “Asking more out of myself … would have been hazardous for the team. You always want to have the right guy out there in the right situation. It wasn’t going to be me.”
Cubs starter Randy Wells(notes) also pitched well, giving up two runs on seven hits in seven innings. Although he is 0-5 with a 5.89 ERA in his last nine starts and hasn’t won since April, he was encouraged by the physical and mental adjustments he has made.
“It’s a little unfortunate it took this long to get the problem fixed,” said Wells, who had a 3.05 ERA as one of the majors’ top rookie pitchers last season. “Today I was pretty pleased with the way I calmed my emotions, didn’t let the negative things bother me and just focused on executing.”
NOTES: Going into Thursday, the A’s were 11-5 in one-run games, an MLB-high .688 winning percentage. The Cubs now are 10-15 in such games; their 15 losses lead the majors. … Before drawing his key ninth-inning walk, Theriot was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts on the day a bobblehead in his likeness was given to fans. With Theriot slumping, Piniella said Mike Fontenot(notes) would get more playing time at second base. … Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez(notes), on the DL with a sore left thumb, will start a rehab assignment Saturday at Class A Peoria. … Back in his playing days, A’s manager Bob Geren went 3 for 5 at Wrigley Field, including a homer off Dan Plesac on May 9, 1993. He joked that the tiny visiting clubhouse “builds team camaraderie.”