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For Giants' Edgar Renteria, a new kind of World Series magic

SAN FRANCISCO — In a way, he will always be 21 years old.

He will be thinner, and his eyes will seem brighter. He will be wearing teal, and it will appear as if he is running on air.

In a way, Edgar Renteria will always be that kid who brought the first World Series champion­ship to Florida when he hit a ground-ball single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series against the Indians.

The footage of Renteria rounding first base with his arms in the air will be a part of baseball lore forever.

But the reality is that kid exists today only in memory.

Renteria is 34 now, and his days in the big leagues are numbered. He understands it, and he is not fighting it. All these years later, he just wanted one more shot. One final time on the stage.

This is what he told his Giants teammates when they had a closed-door meeting in Chicago after a particularly tough night this season.

"He pulled the team together in Chicago and kind of got emotional with us," infielder Mark DeRosa said. "He said that his career was closing down in a year or two and he wanted another shot. He felt we had an opportunity to do something special here, and he wanted to tell us that. A lot of guys talked, but his words resonated the loudest.

"He's a man of few words, and so for him to speak and ask the guys to get him back to the postseason for another shot meant something. Look at him. He's playing like he's 20 years old again."

This is what you saw in Game 2 of the World Series against the Rangers on Thursday night: a fading ballplayer becoming relevant once more.

In a scoreless game on a perfect night, Renteria whipped his bat around once more and sent a ball flying high down the leftfield line until it cleared the wall and dropped into October lore.

Oh, it was not a question of history repeating in the Giants' 9-0 win. The hit was not as dramatic as the one in 1997, and the outcome was not as decisive. No, this moment was more like a coda to a fine career. A final bookend, if you prefer.

After all, just a handful of players understand that feeling. Just a small number are part of the fraternity of Game 7 walkoff moments.

"It's no surprise that Edgar is coming through," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "He's had probably one of the biggest hits in World Series history. He's obviously clutch and knows what he's doing up there."

He is in his 15th season now, and his range at shortstop has diminished. His bat has been less than potent for several seasons. He is finishing up a two-year, $18.5 million contract, and before Thursday night, no one in San Francisco would have said Renteria was worth the money.

The body is not just older, it is falling apart. Two years ago in Detroit he played an entire season with bone chips in one elbow. This season he went to the disabled list three times.

His latest issue was a partially torn left biceps that hurt like a sonofagun. The problem sort of solved itself when Renteria completely tore the muscle while swinging at a pitch in the National League division series against the Braves. At least it doesn't hurt as much.

"You know, I couldn't be happier for Edgar," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's been a tough year for him. The ups and downs, the injuries. He would come back and injure something else. He's a leader in that clubhouse. Everybody looks up to him. He's been through this, and he's excited about how he feels right now."

For the first time since he was a 19-year-old rookie in 1996, Renteria had less than 400 plate appearances in a season. His pride hurt enough that he went to Bochy during the summer to ask for clarification of his role.

Even now, Renteria is playing only because third baseman Pablo Sandoval has struggled so much. If Sandoval isn't producing at the plate, the Giants prefer to go with a better defensive lineup, with Juan Uribe moving from shortstop to third and Renteria taking over at short.

In other words, he is a stand-in. A No. 8 hitter who can be counted on not to panic in the field.

But if his influence on the field has lessened, Renteria's presence in the clubhouse has grown. Bochy has praised the way Renteria has accepted his demotion, and teammates have raved about his personality and demeanor.

Yet for all his accomplishments in the big leagues — the five All-Star teams, the 2,252 hits and the appearances in seven postseasons — Renteria will always be the guy who ended a World Series with a hit. One of just five players in history to do that in a Game 7.

"All year he kept telling us we needed him," Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "And he wasn't lying."

For Giants' Edgar Renteria, a new kind of World Series magic 10/29/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 29, 2010 9:17am]
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