Cub manager Lou Piniella's decision to give left fielder Alfonso Soriano a rest for the second straight night may have raised a few eyebrows before Thursday's game, but the man who replaced him in the order may have raised even more with his stellar play.
Sam Fuld, the 27-year-old outfielder who collected his first two major-league hits on Wednesday night, kick-started the Cubs offense on Thursday by working a nine-pitch walk off of Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Seth McClung. Ryan Theriot followed with a single and Derrek Lee and Jake Fox each connected on tape-measure home runs to the left-field bleachers, giving the hosts quick 4-0 lead in the first of four crucial games at home against NL Central leaders.
"It's pretty simple," Fuld said before the game when asked about his role as leadoff hitter. "Get on base. I'm not trying to hit too many home runs. I just try to set the table for the middle of the order and [get on base] however I can."
He also spoke about how he could help hitters at the plate by disrupting the rhythm of the opposing team's pitcher. It's tough to say exactly how much McClung was thinking about Fuld on the base paths when he grooved his first-pitch to Lee, but his 39-pitch first inning is certainly not the prescription for a quality start. Credit the young lefty for making the Brewers hurler work.
The left fielder proceeded to rope a two-out line-drive double to the corner in right in the second inning, but was stranded. In the fourth, Fuld meekly tapped a ball to Prince Fielder at first base, but was able to outrun the lumbering McClung to the bag for an infield single and scored on Lee's second homer of the game.
This is what you want out of a leadoff hitter.
Patience at the plate? Check.
Quality at-bats? Checks all around.
After six official at-bats this season, Fuld was hitting .667 and standing some 75-odd feet in front of the bleacher faithful at Wrigley, a group known for diving headfirst with their support like a prototypical leadoff man stealing second base. They even gave him a nice hand when he made his first out of the game on a ball he smoked right into left fielder Ryan Braun's glove on a line in the sixth and later in the eighth when he drove Corey Hart to the warning track in right.
This, of course, is not the first time Fuld has performed on the North side. He came up for a 14-game cup of coffee in 2007, going hitless in his six official plate appearances. But the past two games have been his very public coming out party.
The new Cub's teammates also seemed to appreciate the new energy Fuld has brought to the top of the order the past two games, some saying that he works in perfect concert with Soriano.
"Sam's done a really good job and it's nice for Sori, too," winning pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "It gives him a little bit of a breather. It gives a little bit of a spark when a guy who needs a rest can get that little bit of a rest."
If a spark is what Piniella and the Cubs were looking for, they got it in a big way.
But, before we go anointing him as the table-setter of the future, let's take a deep breath. The struggling Soriano will be back in the Cubs lineup Friday afternoon. And he's known for his torrid streaks where he smashes everything in sight just as much as his woeful lows -- something that has Cubs brass optimistic.
"He's a streaky guy," Cubs GM Jim Hendry said of Soriano. "When he gets hot he can carry you."
Hendry said that he and Piniella haven't had any conversation as to where Soriano hits in the order. Soriano seemed ambivalent as well about what position he hit -- but passionate about gettign back on the field to help the team.
"It doesn't matter," he said, "as long as I'm in the lineup."
Asked if Fuld would get the start Friday against right-hander Jeff Suppan, Cubs manager Lou Piniella was nothing if not non-commital.
"We'll see what we do," he said. "But you know, we're obviously pleased with the two games. He's done well."
Well may be an understatement.
It's a miniscule sample size, but for one night Fuld perfected the leadoff spot, serving as the catalyst for the offensive outburst that gave the Cubs a much-needed win over their rivals. And to hear him tell it, he's happy to just be out there, no matter how high his name is on the lineup card.
"It's great to be able to start, it's an opportunity just to be able to contribute anything," he said. "You never know how long this opportunity is going to last, so you've to try to make the most of it."
And for the first two days in July he's done exactly that.