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Renteria starts answering his critics

TORONTO -- In one corner of a subdued Red Sox clubhouse, Alan Embree stood and offered his mea culpa after allowing a three-run walkoff homer to Reed Johnson in a 9-6 Toronto win last night at Rogers Centre.

Down the other end of the room, starter David Wells said he needed to be better if his Boston pitching career was to continue and flourish.

At his locker, closest to the player exit door, Edgar Renteria dressed without much notice. During a disappointing start to his Red Sox career, Renteria has been hard to find, protected almost daily by teammates who have been defending him vehemently at every turn and railing against the hometown fans who boo him and the media members that dwell on him.

Last night, Renteria went 2 for 4, including a triple that set up the tying run in the eighth inning. He hit the ball hard to right field, which is where he hits it when he's going well. Weeks of working with hitting coaches and watching video until it was time to break out the Visine -- work that fans never see -- seemed to pay dividends last night.

But Renteria didn't see it that way.

''I'm not happy, because we lost," Renteria said. ''It doesn't matter what I do if we lose."

That's where he's wrong. In a loss, there was a win. A big W for Renteria in a season of personal L's.

While all the pundits have wondered why the Red Sox signed him when they had a perfectly good shortstop in Orlando Cabrera, all you have to do is understand Renteria's desire to make it in Boston.

Notice you haven't heard many players lamenting the loss of Cabrera.

Renteria's former manager, Tony La Russa, has talked about Renteria being quiet and sensitive and wondered how he'd react to a tough market like Boston. La Russa recently reiterated some of those comments while promoting a book in Boston. The words got back to Renteria.

''I don't know why Tony would say that," said Renteria. ''I wanted to play in Boston. They offered me the best contract and I knew I wanted to come to Boston. I think the fans are great there. I knew all about it. I knew what a great place to play Boston is and I haven't changed my mind about that.

''I'm going to show Tony that I can play here."

How about the booing during the series with the Braves last weekend?

''That doesn't bother me one bit," said Renteria, who went 1 for 13 against Atlanta. ''If you're not doing the job, people have the right to boo you. If I don't give them a reason to cheer for me because I'm doing good, what can I say?

''I know the fans in Boston are the best in baseball. When you perform the way you're supposed to, they're behind you. When I play the way I'm supposed to play, the Boston fans will be behind me."

Renteria, who signed a four-year, $40 million deal, isn't denying that he has a lot to live up to. He wants nothing more than to justify the faith of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, in particular, who went to ownership over the winter and sold them on Renteria.

''All I can do is try to work my way out of it," said Renteria. ''I work every day with Papa Jack [hitting coach Ron Jackson]. Mike Barnett has helped me, too. Everyone is trying to get me going, but I have to go out and do it myself. I know this will come because I know myself. I know how hard I work at it."

There is no regret that he's no longer in St. Louis. He has found his new home quite comfortable, despite the difficult beginning. He has found the support of his new team remarkable, from Francona on down. Even after a tough loss last night, the manager said, ''I've had so much confidence in Edgar regardless of how he's done. Our clubhouse, we're there for him." Maybe it was being out of the Fenway Park pressure cooker that allowed Renteria to let it out last night. He would never say that was the reason. Nor would anyone else on the team.

Last night, it was obvious that Renteria was working on hitting the ball to right field. His batting practice was focused on going the other way. In his first at-bat, he singled to right. And he went that way again in the eighth, after grounding out to the left side in his middle at-bats.

''That's what I do when I'm hitting," Renteria said. ''If I can keep doing those things, I'll be good."

Francona has often pointed out how fundamentally well Renteria plays the game. Sure, he's made eight errors, and the notion that you can separate fielding and hitting sounds good, but the human element often overrides the best of intentions.

There's no question that Renteria has won the respect of his teammates. Now he knows there's a bigger challenge ahead.

''I have to win the respect of the fans," Rentera said. ''All they can go by is what I do on the field. I have to give them a reason to cheer for me."

Last night, they would have.

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