All-Japan matchup has Wrigley bubbling

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Japanese cameramen hustled along the first-base side of Wrigley Field on Monday morning, following every step of Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda during pregame warmups.

Kuroda was on his way to meet a familiar face on the Cubs, an outfielder he played with in Japan. Kuroda made his way around the batting cage and found his friend.

He had a nice chat with Alfonso Soriano, his teammate in the Minor Leagues in the '90s. What, you were expecting someone else?

Well, the assembled reporters might have been. Eighteen Japanese media outlets are covering the Cubs-Dodgers series, about twice the usual amount for a game at Wrigley this season.

The hullabaloo is for Tuesday's all-Japan matchup between Kuroda, the Dodgers' scheduled starter, and Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. The game will be televised live on a Japanese satellite station.

Takashi Yamakawa has covered Kuroda in America and Japan for the Kyodo News. He said Kuroda and Fukudome had dinner together in Los Angeles before the season, but they may not be so quick to make similar plans in Chicago.

"Not before Kuroda pitches," Yamakawa said. "[Kuroda] cares about that a lot. They're enemies before they pitch. But after that, they'll be OK. It's psychological."

Japanese reporters agree that Fukudome has Kuroda's number. He hit .330 off the right-hander with four home runs in Japan. The two were also teammates on the 2004 Olympic team. But this meeting is still unique.

"It is a big deal that Fukudome has never faced a Japanese pitcher yet this season," said Naoko Sato, who covers Fukudome for the Nikkan Sports News. "So it's going to be huge."

Kuroda and Fukudome have experienced varying success in their rookie seasons. Kuroda has lowered his ERA to 3.48 with three straight quality starts but sports a subpar 2-3 record. Fukudome entered Monday's game hitting .301 but just .207 on the road.

There's an even bigger concern regarding Fukudome's stats for Japanese fans -- the two home runs. They would like to see a little extra power.

"More home runs," Yamakawa said. "People think Fukudome hits 30 home runs every year. But maybe not that much [this year]. In hitting, he's been more like Ichiro [Suzuki]."

Who knows, maybe the pop will come Tuesday. Before the season started, the Cubs set May 27 as Fukudome bobblehead day. Big leaguers have been known to come up clutch to correspond with such promotions.

Before Monday's game, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano joked with the outfielder about adding a Fukudome to his bobblehead collection. Zambrano elicited a head-bobbing reaction from Fukudome.

While the Dodgers carry two Japanese pitchers, Kuroda and closer Takashi Saito, the Cubs' $48 million import will receive more attention overseas during the three-game series.

"No. 1 is Ichiro, and second is Daisuke [Matsuzaka]," Saito said, ranking player popularity in Japan. "Third is Hideki Matsui. Kosuke is maybe the fourth. Kuroda is a little less popular. He had a little success in Japan, but his team was not as popular. It didn't have the nationwide [appeal]. It was a little more rural. Also, [Fukudome] is playing every day. That's why his exposure to the media is much more than Kuroda." ... p;c_id=mlb

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