CLEVELAND -- There was plenty of criticism to be found in the wake of the trade that brought Kosuke Fukudome to Cleveland earlier this season. The Indians needed offense and, to many, the outfielder did not look like the answer.
Fukudome has done well in proving his worth.
On Thursday night, Fukudome wasted little time in showing what he is capable of doing for the Tribe. Two pitches into the first inning, he launched a pitch into the right-field seats for a home run that set the tone for an explosive 11-2 romp over the White Sox at Progressive Field.
"Man, he has given us so much stability," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It's been overlooked."
Fukudome ignited the Indians' offense, but All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera did all he could to steal the spotlight. Cabrera launched his 25th homer of the year, setting a single-season franchise record for a shortstop, and ended the night with five RBIs to help Cleveland (77-78) keep its hold on second place in the American League Central.
Both Fukudome and Cabrera combined to lead an overwhelming offensive onslaught that was more than sufficient in supporting another strong outing from Jeanmar Gomez. The young right-hander cruised to his fifth straight win with six solid innings, continuing to state his case for the 2012 rotation.
It all began with Fukudome.
After White Sox starter Philip Humber offered Fukudome a 1-0 hitter's count, the veteran outfielder took advantage by drilling the next pitch out to lead off the first frame. Rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis followed suit, belting a pitch from Humber out to straightaway center field to give the Tribe a swift 2-0 advantage.
It marked the first time since June 19, 1971 that the Indians began a home game with back-to-back blasts. Graig Nettles and Vada Pinson turned the trick back then. The last time Cleveland did the same deed in any game was on May 23, 2007, when Grady Sizemore and Casey Blake opened a tilt against Kansas City with consecutive shots.
"I've never had that happen to me," Humber said, "the first two batters of the game going deep."
Humber locked in from there, setting down the next 14 batters he faced in order. That was before the right-hander ran into more trouble in the fifth inning, when Fukudome delivered a two-run single that pushed Chicago (76-80) behind, 4-2. For Fukudome, it marked his first three-RBI showing since donning a Tribe uniform in July.
Milestones with more historical implications followed shortly thereafter.
In a four-run seventh inning, Cabrera's three-run blast off reliever Addison Reed set the club record for shortstops. One batter later, Travis Hafner doubled off Reed to collect the 1,000th hit of his career, earning him a warm standing ovation from the home crowd. Cabrera added a two-run single to give the Tribe an 11-2 lead in the eighth.
The five runs Cabrera drove in gave him 92 RBIs this season, extended his career high and making him the first Indians shortstop with at least 90 RBIs in a season since Lou Boudreau had 106 in 1948. Cabrera now sits eight RBIs shy of joining Boudreau and Joe Sewell as the only Cleveland shortstops to reach the century mark in a season.
"What a night," Acta said. "Three-run homer and then the two-run single. This guy is putting together some really good numbers. ... It's been remarkable what he has been able to do offensively this year."
Cabrera was thrilled in the aftermath of his effort.
"I'm really excited, I'm really happy," said the shortstop. "I just wanted to hit the ball, and it went out. I'm really happy. I'm excited."
Gomez (5-2) used the wealth of offense to his advantage, improving to 5-0 with a 2.10 ERA over his last five turns for Cleveland. The righty limited the White Sox to two runs (one earned) over six innings, ending with three strikeouts and two walks. Gomez also continued to impress the Indians' decision-makers.
"We're not handing out jobs right now in September," Acta said. "But he certainly has put himself in the mix to be competing in our rotation. He knows that."
Whether or not Fukudome will be in the plans for 2012 remains to be seen.
The Indians acquired him on July 28 to help an offense that has lacked outfielders Michael Brantley, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo at various points due to injuries. Depending on what Cleveland decides about Sizemore's club option for next year, Fukudome (a free agent this winter) may or may not be under consideration for another year.
Since joining the Indians, Fukudome has hit .258 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 52 games. He had just three homers and 13 RBIs in 87 games for the Cubs earlier this season.
"I was here in the American League for the first time," Fukudome said through his interpreter, Hiro Aoyama. "I wasn't used to it, so I really wanted to just be aggressive. That may be the difference."
Fukudome has certainly made an impression on the Indians.
"This guy shows up and plays every single game pretty much and every single inning," Acta said. "[He's hit] wherever we've needed him -- sixth, leadoff -- and the defense that he has played has been fantastic."
To back up Acta's last comments, the 34-year-old Fukudome showed what he can do in the field, ending the fourth inning with a spectacular diving catch to rob Adam Dunn of an extra-base hit.
"He's been terrific," Acta said. "It's too bad. The reason why we brought him over here was for our main goal [of making the playoffs]. We couldn't accomplish that, but that wasn't because of him."
As for next year, Fukudome said he has not put much thought into it, yet.
For what it is worth, he did say he has liked playing in Cleveland.
"I do enjoy playing baseball here," said Fukudome, who then flashed his sense of humor. "I like it, but there's too many bugs."