Orlando Merced of the Minnesota Twins in action during a game against the Texas Rangers at The Ball Park in Arlington, Texas. Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport
The 1998 season was remarkable for many reasons -- not the least of which was the Cubs' first playoff season in nine years, and the first (and so far, only) wild card postseason spot won by the Cubs.
For the last 45 days of the season, no more than one game separated the first- and second-place teams in the NL wild card race -- the Cubs, Mets, and in the final week, the Giants, who the Cubs wound up playing in the memorable tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field.
This game was part of an amazing weekend series with the Brewers, who were in their first year as a NL team. The Cubs won two of three, but both teams scored 10 or more runs in all three games. Orlando Merced, pictured here, played a key role in this game. Why is this photo of him in a Twins uniform?
Primarily because Merced's Cubs career was very brief. The Twins sent him to the Red Sox in a July 31 deadline deal that year (along with Greg Swindell), but Boston released him on September 1. Four days later he was a Cub; he played in just 12 games and had only 10 at-bats. One of them was particularly important.
With all the memories that Sammy Sosa (and Mark McGwire) are making for us this season, it took a man who has been a Cub for just one week to get the most important hit in today's amazing 15-12 come-from-behind win over the Brewers.
Actually, calling it "come-from-behind" doesn't come close to describing what the Cubs did today. After being blasted in a slugfest yesterday 13-11, it looked like more of the same this afternoon, on a lovely sun-kissed 80-degree afternoon, the kind you see in September all the time and say, "Please stick around through the fall!"
Milwaukee hitters pounded Mike Morgan for three home runs in the third inning, one from Geoff Jenkins, one from Jeromy Burnitz and one from Bobby Hughes, who isn't really even a home run hitter. The eight-run inning chased Morgan, who's not anywhere near the pitcher who went 16-8 with a 2.55 ERA in his first incarnation as a Cub six years ago. The inning might have ended with "only" six runs, due to an error by Jose Hernandez that made the last two home runs come after the third out should have been registered.
So the Cubs were down 8-2; the Brewers made it 10-2 and then 12-5 by the time the Cubs bats finally woke up in the bottom of the seventh inning. Sammy slammed his 60th, a three-run job to make it 12-8, and Glenallen Hill followed with a solo shot to cut the deficit to three. Sammy's blast put him back within two of Mark McGwire, who went 0-for-3 today against the Astros.
Felix Heredia -- yes, Felix Heredia -- managed a scoreless eighth, and then Tyler Houston led off the last of the eighth with a homer off Chad Fox to make it 12-10. That was the eighth home run of the day.
Thank heavens for Terry Mulholland, who has done pretty much everything and anything Jim Riggleman has asked of him this year. He got the first two outs in the ninth before yielding to Rod Beck, who gave up a single to Marc Newfield to very deep short -- neither Hernandez nor Gary Gaetti could do anything with it -- before retiring Hughes to set up the bottom of the ninth.
Two singles, a successful sac bunt by Gaetti (what a find! Keep him around for a while!) and a walk loaded the bases for Houston, who singled in a pair to tie the game and sent Mickey Morandini, representing the winning run, to third base with one out.
Up stepped Orlando Merced.
Merced? Some of the crowd looked around, wondering who this guy was. The Cubs just signed him a week ago after the Red Sox let him go. He'd been 1-for-4 as a Cub, a single that drove in a run against one of his former teams, the Pirates, last Wednesday.
Merced hit Bob Wickman's second pitch into the right field bleachers for a three-run walkoff home run.
Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. Merced had a couple pretty good years for the Pirates in 1995 and 1996; he's only 31. Why not keep him around? He's a useful backup first baseman and outfielder.
And he won the game. I think everyone knows who he is now. The win, coupled with the Mets' loss to the Expos, puts the Cubs one game ahead of New York in the wild card race. It's been close like this for more than a month. Tomorrow, Steve Trachsel faces the Brewers' Brad Woodall.
What a year. No matter what happens, we'll always remember the 1998 season.