Orlando Merced had only ten at-bats as a Cub.
But one of them cemented him in Cub lore forever; on September 12, 1998, Merced hit a three-run walkoff HR to win a game against the Brewers, the second of three heart-stopping wins in what can, even ten years later, arguably be viewed as the most exciting regular-season weekend in Wrigley Field history.
The Cubs and Mets entered that weekend tied for the wild-card lead with 82-65 records. Both teams lost on Friday -- the Cubs, 13-11 to Milwaukee in a game that saw the Cubs blow a 3-0 lead, trail 10-5 before coming back to make it 10-9, then give up three more runs before making it 13-11 and having Mickey Morandini come to the plate in the last of the 9th as the potential tying run, before Bob Wickman got Morandini to ground out to end the game.
The next day wasn't any less exciting. The Cubs took a 2-0 lead, but coughed it right up; Mike Morgan, who had been acquired to try to recapture his 1992 success, allowed eight runs in the third, including home runs by Geoff Jenkins, Jeromy Burnitz and Bobby Hughes. The Brewers extended the lead to 10-2 in the fifth, but the Cubs brought it back to 10-5, partly on the strength of a Jose Hernandez homer.
It was 12-5 in the 7th when Sammy Sosa hit his 60th HR, a three-run jack, and Glenallen Hill followed with a solo job: 12-9. A Tyler Houston bomb in the 8th made it 12-10, setting up a dramatic bottom of the 9th, with Wickman again throwing for the Brewers. Sosa and Hill led off with singles, putting the tying runs on base. Jim Riggleman had Gary Gaetti sacrifice both of them into scoring position.
It was Gaetti's only sacrifice hit in 492 PA in 1998, and the last one of his career, and it worked. Morandini walked to load the bases and Houston singled Sosa and Hill in, tying the game and sending Morandini to third, representing the winning run with only one out. Riggleman then sent Merced up to bat for Manny Alexander; why Phil Garner didn't counter with a LHP like Mike Myers I'll never know.
We can all be thankful he didn't. Merced sent a fly ball to right; at first, we thought he'd just singled over the pulled-in outfield, since one run was all the Cubs needed. The ball, though, had made the bleachers for a three-run homer and a wild 15-12 win.
Merced was allowed to leave the Cubs as a free agent after the 1998 season. Too bad, too -- I thought he would have been a valuable spare-part outfielder and pinch-hitter. He had three more good years as a backup in Montreal and Houston before hanging it up after 2003. He helped the Cubs out one last time that year -- on September 27, 2003, the day the Cubs clinched the NL Central and needed a Houston loss and a doubleheader sweep at home vs. Pittsburgh to do so, Merced pinch-hit in the last of the ninth, again against Milwaukee. Dan Kolb struck him out, and one out later the Astros had lost.
Only ten at-bats as a Cub for Merced. But that at-bat, and that game, will forever rank high on a list of memorable Cub moments.