BALTIMORE -- A piece of wood, a chip really, splintered off Edgar Renteria's fractured bat as he swung at a heavy B.J. Ryan fastball with the bases full, one out, and the game tied in the ninth inning last night.
Most of the season, Renteria pops the pitch up, retreats with his head down to the dugout, and leaves the heroics up to David Ortiz.
''I've said one of the reasons I wanted to play here was to play with Edgar," said Matt Clement, who pitched six scoreless innings, despite walking the bases loaded twice. ''He probably isn't content with how he's played. And I know Papi's Mr. Clutch. But I'll take Edgar out there as much as a lot of guys."
Renteria flashed the cosmic ability that he's struggled to unveil, beating Ryan for a two-run single and the Orioles for a 4-3 win. Coupled with the Yankees' 7-4 loss to Toronto earlier in the day, the last-inning victory pulled the Sox even with New York for the division lead with eight games to play, and did so in the most dramatic of ways.
''Well, we had to," manager Terry Francona said. ''[Ryan] is one of the best, and we beat one of the best. Guys who hadn't hit him before, hit him.
''I think a lot of teams lose that game. We're not a lot of teams."
The Sox led, 2-0, after the first inning and until the bottom of the seventh, when 21-year-old Craig Hansen surrendered a two-run homer to Melvin Mora. But, in the ninth, the Sox rallied against the towering lefthanded Ryan.
Trot Nixon (2 for 14 career vs. Ryan) singled to the left side of the infield with one out. Tony Graffanino, sore groin and all, deposited a single over first base. Adam Stern, who boards a flight today for California to have labrum surgery, pinch ran. And Johnny Damon walked, loading the bases for the cerebral Colombian.
Renteria, 1 for 6 all-time vs. Ryan, figured the less he saw, the better. He offered at the first pitch and lofted it to left. Nixon scored. Stern nearly caught him on the way to the plate, with what would prove to be the winning run.
''I told Trot, 'It's a relay. I'm trying to hand off,' " Stern said.
Mike Timlin allowed a run in the ninth before recording his ninth save in 11 chances since taking over the closer role.
Clement, an afterthought at the end of 3 hours 44 minutes of baseball, was a significant reason the clubs played for nearly four hours. He needed 116 pitches to complete six innings. He allowed 10 runners, but not a single run. He took a no-hitter into the fifth, but had walked three batters in the second and fourth innings.
''It wasn't like it was the first time in my life I walked the bases loaded," he said. ''I don't consider it a struggle. I didn't feel like I was all over the place."
He pitched when he needed to, leaving the bases loaded in both innings, popping up Luis Matos in the second, and inducing Matos to ground out in the fourth.
Clement allowed one hit in the fifth and three in the sixth but again, zero runs, aided in both innings by double plays. In the fifth, Miguel Tejada came up with one on and one out and laced a ball up the middle. The ball changed direction slightly off Clement's glove and ricocheted to Graffanino, who began a 1-4-6-3 double play.
Generally, Clement is rather nondescript, but he was stoked at that moment, pumping his fist with vigor. His manager missed his display of exuberance.''I might have been too busy doing the same thing," Francona said.
By the middle of the day, though, he'd be more reserved, his bullpen again putting the team in a difficult spot.
Hansen, on for the seventh, began with some electricity, fanning Matos on three pitches, all fastballs, the last at 95 miles per hour. But then it all came undone, first softly, then violently. Bernie Castro chopped a ball short of third base. Bill Mueller, however, had to wait for the ball to come down and had almost no play.
Then Hansen, on 1-and-1 to Mora, missed with a slider, one of two offspeed pitches among the 19 he threw. Behind, 2 and 1, he threw a 95-m.p.h. fastball that Mora lofted just 368 feet to left but gone, tying the game at 2-2.
''I think he's going to be OK," said Timlin, who spent a few quiet minutes with Hansen before the media did. ''He's done it before. He's given up home runs before. This is just a different level. He's going to get the feeling of what it's like here.
''Hopefully, if he's on the playoff roster, he'll take it and run with it."
Hansen then got Tejada to ground to third, before allowing a single up the middle to Jay Gibbons and a double to Javy Lopez. After six batters, four hits, and two runs, Francona lifted Hansen for Mike Myers, who got B.J. Surhoff to pop out on the first pitch.
Jonathan Papelbon, for the second consecutive night, worked a scoreless eighth inning.
''You see where [in games] we're going to him," Francona said. ''I think he's earned it. Regardless of his age, we're counting on him. He deserves it."
Papelbon (2-1) allowed a leadoff single, but with one out, he finished Matos with a full-count slider, and Jason Varitek completed the inning-ending double play by throwing out pinch runner Eddie Rogers attempting to steal second.
Papelbon, in his first few relief appearances, was hesitant to throw offspeed pitches (his slider and splitter). Asked, then, if the slider to Matos is a pitch he wouldn't have thrown a week or two ago, he said: ''Depending on the hitter, the situation, maybe yeah. Varitek threw down a 3-and-2 slider. I trusted him, and I trusted myself to execute the pitch.
''I'm just trying to attack hitters. And let my ability take over."
Something Renteria did, too.