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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Cardinal Nation vs. Edgar Renteria

St. Louis Cardinals fans are known not only for their baseball knowledge, but for their manners. Opposing players are rarely booed and occasionally cheered when they make great plays. The harshest words are not reserved for opponents, but for umpires who make mistakes (from birth, every St. Louis child knows the story of Don Denkinger).

That's why it was so unusual tonight to hear the crowd booing Edgar Renteria, the Boston Red Sox shortstop. You see, until this season, Edgar was the Cardinals shortstop. Then he decided to move to the World Series champs for about a million more per year. That pay raise is probably not even covering the difference in the cost of living between St. Louis and Boston, but it was the lack of loyalty that ticked off a lot of Redbirds rooters.

Tonight, the Red Sox were back at Busch Stadium for the first time since they swept the Cards in the World Series -- in fact, it's the first time the two have ever played a regular season game here. There was definitely revenge in the air along with a sell-out crowd, and the subtext of Edgar's return wasn't lost on anyone in Cardinal Nation.

When Renteria came to bat in the top of the first, he was greeted with more than a smattering of boos. The majority of the fans recognized that as unlike how Cardinals fans usually act, so they stood and cheered for their former shortstop. It was a divided crowd, to say the least.

Renteria didn't have a good night. He hit into two double plays, but they were a mere prelude to the problems he faced in the bottom of the 8th. With two outs and Yadier Molina on first, Cards pitcher Matt Morris -- in the midst of pitching a beaut of a four-hit complete game -- came to bat. Matty Mo hit a ground ball to short that should have been an easy out. But Edgar booted the ball, so both Molina and Morris were safe.

Now to the top of the order. That's David Eckstein, the sparkplug who came to town to take over shortstop after Edgar left. St. Louisans love this guy because he's nearly impossible to strike out and he hustles, big time -- when he gets a base on balls, he runs to first base!

If Edgar had made the play on Morris' grounder, Eckstein wouldn't be at the plate, but there he is, swinging away and lining the ball down the left field line. Molina and Morris are off and running and, when the dust clears, they've both crossed the plate and Eckstein has slid, head first, safely into third.

The crowd goes nuts and gives Eckstein a standing ovation. The irony is apparent to every one of the 50,000+ at Busch Stadium. The former shortstop blew it and the new shortstop took advantage of the mistake to drive in two runs.

That's when the chanting began. "Ed-gar! Ed-gar! Ed-gar!" Taunting like I've never seen or heard at Busch Stadium. While the boos came from the minority earlier, the chanting is definitely by the majority now.

The Red Sox get out of the inning without any more damage, but when they bat in the 9th, the second man up is....Edgar Renteria.

By now -- and it's only been five minutes -- the pendulum has swung back the other way. There are still some fans chanting "Ed-gar! Ed-gar!", but a lot more are clapping for him. It's as if Cardinal Nation has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other (pardon the Anaheim pun, considering that's where Eckstein played last year), and it's made the crowd a little schizo.

Renteria doesn't get on base, nor do any other Red Sox, and the game ends in a 7-1 rout -- and Matt Morris improves to a record of seven wins and no losses.

The Cardinals got their revenge on their World Series foes, and the fans got their licks in, too. I'd bet Edgar's not getting a good night's sleep.

Gonna be interesting to see what develops in game two tomorrow night.