LOS ANGELES -- It's always an intriguing showdown when one of the former stars of the Japanese League faces another in a major league game. So far, Kosuke Fukudome is having more fun than Takashi Saito when the Chicago Cubs play the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Fukudome opened the scoring with a solo home run and drove in the eventual game-winner with a one-out single in the ninth against the Dodgers' All-Star closer, leading the Cubs to a 5-4 victory on Thursday night. It was his second hit in as many at-bats against Saito.
Fukudome got a 2-2 slider down in the zone and grounded it through the right side of the infield to enable the Cubs to regain the lead after they squandered a 4-0 margin.
"He kept fouling off those fastballs, so we tried to get him to quit on a backdoor slider and (Saito) left it down over the plate," catcher Russell Martin said. "If it's a couple of inches to the left, it's probably a double play. But he found a hole, and that was it."
Ryan Theriot opened the ninth with a double down the right-field line against Saito (3-2). One out later, Aramis Ramirez was hit by a pitch on the hand -- or at least umpire Eric Cooper thought so -- and manager Joe Torre argued to no avail along with Martin.
"It nicked something. I don't know it was his the knob of the bat or his hand," Martin said. "I know it didn't nick him as hard as he made it look, but that's what you're taught to do. If it flicks off something, throw your hands up and you'll get the base. He definitely has a career in Hollywood, that's for sure."
The Cubs have won 10 of 11 and lead the majors with a 39-22 record, their best start since 1977 when they had an identical record. They began this recent surge with a three-game sweep of the Dodgers at Wrigley Field, and are 17-3 against NL West teams.
Bob Howry (2-2) was credited with the victory after pitching one inning. Kerry Wood, the fifth Cubs pitcher, escaped his own bases-loaded jam in the ninth by striking out Matt Kemp to record his 17th save in 21 chances and send the Dodgers to their 11th loss in 14 tries.
"We drew it up with the closer coming in to protect a one-run lead, and that's what he did," manager Lou Piniella said. "The decision was in the balance until the last pitch. It was an exciting game. I've had all the fun I want for one evening. That's a good way to start a four-game series. Fukudome came up with some clutch hitting in the ninth inning."
Jeff Kent helped the Dodgers overcome a two-run deficit with solo home runs his last two times up. He sent a 3-1 pitch from Ryan Dempster into the lower seats in the left-field corner with one out in the sixth, then drove Howry's 1-1 delivery over the left-field wall with two outs in the eighth for his eighth home run of the season and 373rd of his career.
The five-time All-Star, whose 347 home runs as a second baseman are a major league record, recorded his 20th multihomer game and first since Sept. 9, 2007, at San Francisco.
It would have been difficult a couple of years ago to imagine a scenario in which the Cubs would be using Wood as a closer and Dempster as a starter. But the plan has worked out well for Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
"I've faced both those guys when they were rookies and throwing heat," Kent said. "And Kerry Wood, coming back from all of his injuries -- I know he beat his shoulder up, throwing all those dang sliders he's got. But I'm proud of him, trying to rejuvenate his career in more of a specific role instead of him just fading away from the game. I know he's a good kid and I know he can still pitch."
Dempster allowed three runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings in his 400th big league appearance and first start at Dodger Stadium since May 9, 2001, with the Florida Marlins.
"It's kind of odd, because I've seen Dempster as a starter, then as a reliever, and now back as a starter. And I'm absolutely impressed how he's pitching now as a starter again," Kent said. "He's turned himself into a professional pitcher. He really knows how to work fast, he doesn't shake off pitches from his catcher very often -- if at all -- and he sets guys up two pitches ahead."
Chad Billingsley allowed four runs and seven hits over five innings, striking out eight and walking three. Billingsley had allowed only one home run over his previous 51 1/3 innings before giving up solo shots by Fukudome in the second and Mark DeRosa in the fourth.
- Only four times in Lou Piniella's past 446 games as a manager has one of his pitchers thrown a nine-inning complete game. Jason Marquis and Carlos Zambrano did it last season, both at Wrigley Field. Rob Bell and Mark Hendrickson did it for Tampa Bay exactly a year apart. This amazing stretch began back on July 29, 2004 -- the day after Hendrickson went the distance for the second time in an 11-day span.
- The Dodgers selected RHP Ethan Martin of Stephens County (Ga.) High School on Thursday with the 15th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Their past five No. 1 picks all have been high school pitchers, including Billingsley (2003) and Clayton Kershaw (2006).
- The Cubs tabbed RHP Andrew Cashner with the 19th overall pick in the draft. He was drafted last year by the Cubs in the 29th round, but chose to attend TCU.