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Cubs unsung heroes: Micah Hoffpauir, September 25, 2008

He coulda been somebody.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The one regret I have in giving Micah Hoffpauir the 2008 “unsung Cubs hero” honor is that I could not find any video from this game.

First, before I tell you about Micah’s career game, a little bit of history that’s been mostly forgotten.

The Cubs had clinched the N.L. Central in their last home game of 2008 and Lou Piniella had begun resting his regulars in anticipation of the division series coming up. In hindsight, this was a big mistake for several reasons. First, it was too long a period of rest — seven games’ worth. Second, all seven games were against the two teams fighting it out for the N.L.’s then single wild-card spot. The Cubs could have had a big say in who they played in the first round, because at the time, there was a rule in place that teams could not play a club from their own division in the division series. Thus if the Brewers were the wild card, the Cubs, who had the N.L.’s best record, would then have to play the division winner with the third-best record — the Dodgers, who they did wind up playing, and losing to. If they’d have played that last week a bit differently, maybe the Mets win the wild card and the Cubs would have played them instead. That likely would have been a better matchup for the Cubs than the hot Dodgers were.

Oh, well.

Anyway, this was the last of a four-game series at Shea Stadium. The Cubs had won two of the first three and Rich Harden was to face Pedro Martinez in the series finale. Harden threw six competent innings (two hits, five walks, three runs). Meanwhile, Hoffpauir was teeing off on Pedro. He homered in the first, doubled in a run in the third and singled in the fifth.

In the seventh, with the game tied 3-3, Micah came up against Ricardo Rincon after Martinez had put the first two runners on base. Hoffpauir slammed another homer, giving him five RBI. He singled again in the eighth to give himself a 5-for-5 night.

The Cubs entered the bottom of the eighth leading 6-4, but Neal Cotts and Bob Howry gave up a pair of runs to tie the game and the Mets won on a Carlos Beltran RBI single in the 10th.

If the Mets had won one more game against the Cubs — or if Lou hadn’t started a spring training split squad lineup against the Brewers on the last day of the season and maybe the Cubs had won that game — the Brewers and Mets would have been forced into a wild-card tiebreaker. Who knows, maybe the Mets win that game — it would have been at Shea — and the story of the 2008 postseason is entirely different.

As for Hoffpauir, there was a huge call for him to be in the starting lineup in 2009 because he had demolished Triple-A pitching in 2008 (.362/.393/.752 with 25 home runs in only 71 games), but of course the Cubs still had Derrek Lee entrenched at first base. Plus, Hoffpauir was 29 in 2009 and had spent seven years in the minor leagues, not exactly a rousing recommendation for a potential big MLB career. He started the year with the Cubs, played a bit of first base and then was forced to the outfield when D-Lee began hitting.

Hoffpauir wasn’t a very good outfielder and Lee was having what turned into an outstanding season (.306/.393/.579, 35 home runs, 5.1 bWAR, ninth place in N.L. MVP voting), so Micah wound up as mostly a pinch-hitter. He hit .239/.300/.427 with 10 home runs in 234 at-bats. He played in 25 games for the Cubs in 2010 and was released, after which he played three not-so-great years for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan’s NPB (.225/.298/.384 with 31 home runs in 300 games). During his time in Japan, among other things, he survived the 2011 earthquake there while on the 26th floor of a Tokyo hotel room.

And I still wish I could find video of his big day at Shea Stadium in September 2008.