- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The two guys on the left side of the San Francisco Giants' infield have big hearts, a knack for hitting the fastball and physiques that probably won't land them prominent places in the 2011 edition of ESPN The Magazine's "The Body Issue.''
Shortstop Edgar Renteria is 34 years old and just this side of decrepit. He landed on the disabled list with a strained right groin in May, a strained right hamstring in June and an injured left bicep that he suffered during an at-bat against Billy Wagner in August. More often than not, his two-year, $18.5 million contract was the only truly healthy thing about him.
Third baseman Juan Uribe is much more durable at age 31, but at a stocky 6-foot, 230 pounds, he looks more like a Division III middle linebacker than a big league middle infielder. Uribe would be considered "buff'' only if he were standing side-by-side with teammate Pablo Sandoval.
But when the pressure mounts and the at-bats are magnified in October, the swimsuit portion of the competition doesn't count for much. The Giants are two wins away from a world championship, and the left side of their infield is looking prettier than a California sunset.
Renteria, the pride of Barranquilla, Colombia, played the lead role offensively in San Francisco's 9-0 victory in Game 2 Thursday. He homered off Texas starter C.J. Wilson in the fifth inning to break a scoreless tie, singled home two more runs in the Giants' cartoonish seven-run eighth, and continued to gobble up balls at short with aplomb. For want of a better word, you might characterize him as "spry.''
"I couldn't be happier for Edgar,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's been a tough year for him. I will say this: The rest probably has benefited him. He's playing like he did 10 years ago.''
Uribe, out of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, was terrific in a supporting role. His bloop RBI single in the seventh extended San Francisco's lead to 2-0 and gave starter Matt Cain a little room to breathe before the Giants turned it into a yuk-fest in the eighth. Uribe, with his .300 career on-base percentage, is rarely mentioned in the same sentence with the words "plate'' and "discipline,'' but he worked a bases-loaded walk against Mark Lowe on a full count to contribute to the festivities in the eighth.
"He's a guy that wants to be up in that situation,'' Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "He's done it time and time again. He's a guy that swings and misses sometimes. He'll swing at balls over his head and in the dirt, but he still bears down and has good at-bats.''
Both San Francisco infielders can summon some welcome history to help them relax at this time of year. Renteria was only 21 years old when he produced the climactic bloop single off the Cleveland Indians' Charles Nagy to win the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins. It's been a long, productive journey ever since: With 2,252 career hits, Renteria ranks 13th among active players -- directly between Bobby Abreu and Ichiro Suzuki. With 114 more hits, he'll pass Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell and Hall of Famer Joe Cronin on the all-time shortstop hit parade.
San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean was criticized when he signed Renteria to that two-year deal in December 2008, and it was starting to look like money down the drain because Renteria seemed so brittle this season. Each time he was close to returning from one injury, another body part would betray him. Uribe eventually settled in at shortstop, and Renteria might have gotten lost in the shuffle if Sandoval hadn't fallen into a season-long slump that's made him a forgotten man in October.
The whole time [Renteria] was hurt, he kept telling us we would need him all the way to the end. He wasn't lying.
”--Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens
Even as Renteria was setting new career lows with 72 games played and 243 at-bats, his resolve never wavered. When the Giants sent him to Triple-A Fresno on a rehab assignment in June, he talked to the young kids and was happy to pass along the wisdom he's gained through his travels. He never forgot that it's a long season in baseball, and that if he kept plugging away, his body might heal and give him an opportunity to contribute to the cause eventually.
"I know what it's like to be hurt and not be able to play,'' said Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez. "But even when Edgar was hurt and he wasn't able to play, he came to the ballpark and prepared as if he was playing. I think that's the biggest compliment I can give him.''
Said Meulens: "The whole time he was hurt, he kept telling us we would need him all the way to the end. He wasn't lying.''
Uribe, like Renteria, knows his way around a playoff series. He earned a ring as a member of Ozzie Guillen's 2005 championship club in Chicago, and he's authored some monster hits in the 2010 postseason. His sacrifice fly off Roy Oswalt in the National League Championship Series gave San Francisco a 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in a classic Game 4. Three nights later, after the series shifted from the Bay Area to Philadelphia, Uribe hit a solo homer off Ryan Madson to propel San Francisco to a 3-2 victory and the National League pennant.
In the clubhouse after Thursday's game, the two players' disparate personalities were on display. Renteria, soft-spoken and humble, gamely tried to answer reporters' questions in his limited English. He expressed pride over his achievements in baseball, thanked God for his good health, and credited hard work and lots of at-bats in the cage with helping him regain his timing this month.
He also tried to crack a joke, and his good-natured sense of humor shone through even if he was slightly off on the details.
When asked how it felt to see the Giants score 20 runs in two games against Texas after they've struggled so mightily to produce offensively this season, Renteria smiled.
"It's Halloween, and on Halloween anything can happen,'' he said.
A few lockers down, Uribe wore a beige wool cap and matching beige T-shirt with "Rock 'n Roll'' inscribed on the front, and entertained the media with the help of an interpreter. Uribe has a high-pitched voice that can resonate across the clubhouse, and he's been known to bust up his teammates by singing the Canadian national anthem or referencing other pieces of pop culture. For example, Uribe reportedly loves to imitate the guy who does the "That's a low price!'' ads for Staples, the office supply chain.
When people credit him with keeping the Giants loose, Uribe takes it as a major compliment.
"'I'm proud to have my teammates think that of me,'' Uribe said. "They're like my second family, right after my family in the Dominican Republic. It's just like it was when I played in Chicago. When I see my ex-teammates, they're the same way. It's all about friendships in this game, and they're my family.''
As Renteria and Uribe know from experience, nothing contributes to family bonding quite like a ring ceremony. The Giants are only two wins away from making that a reality.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg