Thirteen years ago, Jim Leyland was in the dugout, mind racing and heart pumping as he wished on the bat of a 21-year-old kid named Edgar Renteria.
The Florida Marlins and Cleveland Indians were 11 innings deep in the seventh game of the World Series. The bases were loaded with two out, the script screaming for a star.
Renteria, so much calmer than he should have been, waved a slider into center field. He has been in the canon of October highlights ever since.
Back then, Renteria was all youth and promise. Monday, at the end of a trying and injury-plagued season, he was playing perhaps the final game of his career. The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers were locked in a scoreless tie, and Renteria, batting eighth, wasn’t the likeliest candidate to break it.
But there’s something about the ol’ shortstop that hasn’t changed.
“He’s dangerous on the big stage,” Leyland said.
This time, Leyland was watching on television with his son. Patrick Leyland was 6 when Renteria became an October legend. Apparently, he has seen the replays.
"He’s going to get a hit,” the younger Leyland predicted.
“No doubt about it,” the manager replied.
By now, you know the rest: Renteria didn’t just get a hit. He won the World Series and locked up the MVP award with a single swing in the seventh.
An RBI single? Please. Renteria tattooed the 2-0 cutter from Cliff Lee, a man thought to be unhittable not long ago.
The ball climbed into the left-center gap, with enough loft that superman Josh Hamilton appeared to have a chance. Then it disappeared over the wall.
An unexpected finishing kick.
Like the guy who hit it.
“I thought it was going to be a double,” Renteria said amid the Giants’ first world championship celebration since 1954. “But when I looked in center field, it was out. I did it. Thank God.”
“There’s a saying in baseball,” said William H. Neukom, the Giants’ managing general partner. “Rookies win games. Veterans win championships.”
“He did it as a baby,” Leyland said. “Now he did it again.”
For the record, Renteria called his shot. Sort of.
According to leadoff man Andres Torres, Renteria said before the game he was going to hit a home run. And while Renteria didn’t exactly tell the entire dugout what he was about to do — or point to the bleachers in left-center — his prediction will become part of the folklore.
Game 5, though, will be more memorable for where it came in Renteria’s career. The 34-year-old is considering retirement, and that’s understandable: Injuries limited him to 72 games during the regular season. There was a groin strain. There was a hamstring strain. There was a biceps strain. Entering the playoffs, he had played in only one of the Giants’ last 13 games.
But in time, he healed. The postseason schedule — with all the off days — helped him recuperate. He started to feel better, even though his batting average during the first two rounds of the playoffs (.158) indicated otherwise.
And when Pablo Sandoval’s prolonged slump meant that the Giants would really need him in the World Series, Renteria delivered in a way that not even shaman Bruce Bochy could have expected.
In fact, there isn’t a number-cruncher alive who could have predicted this.
In two seasons with the Giants, Renteria’s OPS was .660 — well below league average. But now that’s the second-most famous 660 in Giants history, behind the career home run total of Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
Renteria batted .412 in the Series with a team-leading six RBIs. He was surrounded by a happy mob in the clubhouse, as teammates chanted “M-V-P!” while pouring Budweiser on his bald head.
If Renteria wants it to be so, this will be remembered as one of the greatest career-ending flourishes in recent sports history. This was Jerome Bettis wearing an infielder’s glove, Ray Bourque swinging a baseball bat.
“Today I looked him in the eyes and told him, ‘Look, don’t be afraid to go out and be the MVP,’” Giants icon Will Clark said. “He started laughing. He said, ‘Maybe.’”
“Three home runs the entire regular season,” Leyland marveled, “and two in the last four games.”
If there is a better sendoff available to a baseball player, I’m not aware of one.
So, was this it? The question was put to Renteria numerous times amid the postgame euphoria. I asked him, simply, “Are you going to retire?” He said, “I don’t know.” To a fellow reporter, his answer was: “I’m (celebrating) with my teammates and enjoying what we’re doing now.”
Clearly, he’s thinking about it. The Giants, while mulling over what to do with Sandoval and free agent infielder Juan Uribe, will probably do the same.
But perhaps Renteria, the greatest player ever to come from the nation of Colombia, dropped a hint late Monday night.
He recalled some details of a speech he gave to teammates in Chicago earlier this year. Renteria, revered in the game for his professionalism, is known to pull players aside and offer encouragement. He usually does so in a one-on-one setting, given his understated demeanor.
In this case, though, he was moved to address the group.
“I (was) feeling that (this was) going to be my last year,” he said. “I just said to my teammates, ‘You guys, let’s go. Let’s play hard, I know we can do it. I believe in you guys.’
“I was hurt at that time. (I said), ‘If you guys got the chance to put me in the playoffs, we can do it together.’
“They did it. It was just magic.”
As a Marlin in 1997, he was a hero. As a Cardinal in 2004, he was the final out of Boston’s curse-breaking title. As a Giant in 2010, he was on the right side of history again.
Renteria was probably too young to fully appreciate that base hit 13 years ago. He once told me, “You don’t always recognize what you’re playing for.”