CHICAGO -- Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki stepped into the on-deck circle Wednesday and took a look around, a quiet moment before another Major League first. "I feel that this is maybe what it was like to play baseball 100 years ago," he said of playing at Wrigley Field. "I'm just glad I can experience that." The three-time Japanese Central League batting champion went 1-for-3 with a walk in his first big league start, quietly playing a key role in a 2-1 win over the Cubs. Aoki played in place of Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who needed a day to rest a stiff torso, and batted leadoff, with second baseman Rickie Weeks sliding into the three-hole.
It appears that Aoki could be a pain in the neck for the rest of the National League. He saw 23 pitches in three plate appearances against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster, including a 10-pitch battle that ended in a flyout. Aoki helped push Dempster's pitch count toward triple digits in the seventh inning, when catcher George Kottaras hit a winning two-run home run. Aoki saw six more pitches from reliever James Russell later in that inning. "That's something that Ron [Roenicke, Milwaukee's manager] always talks about, just making that pitcher throw a lot of pitches and making it tough for them," Aoki said. "I'm glad I was able to do that today." Aoki had appeared in three of the Brewers' first five games off the bench, making his Major League debut in Friday's season opener against the Cardinals and logging his first hit and run scored on Sunday. "He does a nice job battling," Roenicke said. "He's going to be a nice guy to have with us all year." Aoki is transitioning to a reserve role with the Brewers after years as a star in Japan. He was an All-Star each of his seven seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and a six-time Gold Glove Award winner. Has he come to any conclusions about the differences between playing in the U.S. versus Japan? "The fans, their reactions are different than what I'm used to in Japan," Aoki said. "But I enjoy the fans over here. ... I feel that fans over here cheer on good baseball, as opposed to Japan, where they are cheering on their team regardless of whatever happens."