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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Edgar Rentería leaned toward teammate Andrés Torres before his seventh-inning at-bat in Game 5 of the World Series.
In a scoreless game and a championship hanging in the balance, the 35-year-old native of Barranquilla, Colombia, flashed a huge grin and calmly predicted he was about to hit a home run.
And that’s just what he did – smacking a three-run home run off Texas pitcher Cliff Lee over the left-center field fence, providing all of San Francisco’s runs with one mighty swing of the bat on Nov. 1 in Arlington, Texas.
Nine outs later, the Giants clinched their first World Series title in 56 years with a 3-1 victory over the Rangers.
“I had confidence in me, but I was joking like I'm going to get it out,” said Rentería as he wore a champagne-soaked World Series champion T-shirt and cap during his post-game media conference. “But it went out. But I got confident, looking for one pitch, and if he throws I'm going to hit it back to the middle. So [pitcher Cliff Lee] tried to throw the cutter, and the cutter stayed in the middle and that's why it went out.”
He hit it 397 feet to be exact.
The aftershock of Rentería’s heroics will be remembered forever in baseball lore. The Giants, underdogs to win the Fall Classic at the start of the season, relied on the play of Rentería and fellow South American Pablo Sandoval – a native of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela – on the sport’s biggest stage.
Rentería spent three stints on the disabled list this year, lost his starting job at shortstop at one point and openly discussed retirement late in the season. But after blasting his unforgettable home run that set off a raucous celebration in San Francisco’s Mission District, he went from hanging up his cleats to hoisting the silver trophy given to the World Series Most Valuable Player.
“It was a tough year for me and I appreciate the organization for having patience with me and giving me the chance to play here,” said Rentería, who is just the fifth shortstop to be named World Series Most Valuable Player. “I told myself to keep working and keep working and keep in shape because something big could happen.”
In five World Series games, Rentería was 7-for-17 with six runs scored, two home runs and six runs batted-in.
But delivering big hits in October is nothing new for Rentería. In 1997, he helped the Marlins complete one of the most dramatic finishes in World Series history when his single off the Indians’ Charles Nagy scored the winning run in the 11th inning in Game 7. That hit, combined with his long ball in Game 5 on Nov. 1, make Rentería one of just four players – the others being Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio – to have the World Series-clinching run-scoring in two different seasons.
Rentería is the only player on the list who wasn’t a New York Yankee at the time – and the other three are all in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
And maybe someday it will be another Colombian breaking Rentería’s record. Rentería, along with brother Edinson, created the Colombian Professional Baseball League in 2003 to give young players in his country a chance to follow their dreams.
“It's been a tough year for Edgar,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters after Game 5. “He’s had ups and downs and has been injured. He’d come back and reinjure something else. He’s a leader in the clubhouse. Everybody looks up to him. He's been through this and he's excited about how he feels right now. He’s playing like he did 10 years ago. I couldn't be happier for Edgar.”
Rentería hit .276 with three home runs and 22 runs-batted in during the 162-game regular season. But during the Giants 15-game postseason, Rentería went 10-for-25 (.286) with two home runs, seven runs scored and six runs batted-in.
The biggest question facing Rentería – after he and his teammates celebrate their World Series title with a parade throughout downtown San Francisco – is his future.
After an injury-plagued season, his body clearly is breaking down, and he made heavy investments in his native country to help others avoid the poverty-stricken upbringing he endured.
He just completed a two-year, US$18.5 million deal he signed with the Giants in December 2008, and has made about US$83 million during his 14 seasons in the major leagues. If the Giants decide to keep Rentería next season, he’ll make US$10.5 million, US$500,000 more than he earned this year.
So what is Rentería’s next move?
“I am going to think about it,” Rentería said, “and see what happens.”