Renteria a comfortable fit as a hitter in the clutch 22-year-old shortstop just wanted to put ball in play

October 27, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - Somebody had to end this thing. Why not Edgar Renteria?

He was as good a candidate as anyone, a clutch performer whose one swing in the 11th inning made baseball history.

Renteria, a hero in his homeland of Barranquilla, Colombia, became the toast of Miami last night, ending Game 7 of the World Series with a two-out single to center field that scored Craig Counsell and gave the Florida Marlins a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Pro Player Stadium.

Florida needed only five years to win its first championship, the quickest route any team had taken. And Renteria, a smooth-fielding shortstop with a knack for getting the big hit, helped make it possible.

Batting with the bases loaded and the crowd holding its breath, waiting to erupt, Renteria lined a single just over the glove of Indians pitcher Charles Nagy and just beyond the reach of second baseman Tony Fernandez, the ball seeming to take forever to clear the infield. He reached first base and disappeared, swallowed up by jubuliant teammates.

Nagy lowered his head the moment the ball went past him, knowing his season was over.

"I felt comfortable," Renteria said. "I was just thinking, 'Put the ball in play, put the ball in play.' I'm just so excited. I don't know how to feel."

Darren Daulton sat on the Marlins bench as the rally came to life, trying to remain patient. "We were waiting for somebody or something to happen and win it," he said.

Renteria, who turned 22 in August, ended the wait.

"Charlie made a great pitch to Renteria," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove, "and he hit it where nobody was standing. Those are the breaks of the game."

Renteria batted .277 during the regular season, but only .213 in the postseason before last night, when he went 3-for-5 with a walk.

He doubled in the first inning against Cleveland rookie Jaret Wright, the Marlins only hit until the seventh, and got a rally started in the 10th with a out-out single. Given the chance to be a hero in the 11th, he didn't squander it.

Sound familiar? Renteria singled off Orioles reliever Terry Mathews in the 10th inning of a Sept. 2 game at Pro Player Stadium, giving the Marlins a 3-2 victory.

He tied an April 4 game against the Cincinnati Reds with a ninth-inning, inside-the-park homer, then won it with a single in the 11th. He won a game later that month against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and another on August 15 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, both times with ninth-inning singles.

Playing his first full season in the majors, he led the Marlins with 171 hits during the season, the third-highest total in club history. He saved the most important for last.

"I thought to myself, 'He's come up with clutch hits all year. Why stop now?'" said pitcher Tony Saunders, who played at Howard and Glen Burnie high schools. "This was one of the biggest situations he could be up in, and sure enough, he came through."

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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