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Kent still fond of San Francisco

Kent still fond of San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's been five years since he played in an orange-and-black-trimmed uniform, but no matter what, Jeff Kent still kills the Giants.

He did it Friday night when his sixth-inning single drove in the decisive run in the Dodgers' 2-1 win. He did it again Saturday when his fifth-inning, two-run double snapped a 1-1 tie and sent Los Angeles spinning on to a 4-1 victory.

And still the boos and jeers cascade lustily from the 42,098 gathered in AT&T Park as if Kent were a Giant yesterday.

"I guess it's a testament to what I did here when I played here," Kent told MLB.com after the game. "I surely appreciate it."

The Giants fans don't. They razzed him when he struck out looking against old friend Russ Ortiz for the second out of the fourth inning and groaned when Kent ranged out to short-center and made a tumbling one-hand grab of Ray Durham's pop to open the ninth.

He's dressed in Dodgers blue now. "The only blue," he said. And that doesn't help. Kent was hurt most of last season with wrist and oblique injuries, limiting him to 14 homers and 68 RBIs in 115 games, his worst season since 1996, so his output the last few days here has come as no surprise.

"He's much healthier," said Grady Little, in his second season managing the Dodgers. "I never got to see that human being last season, so it's a pleasure to watch him play. He was never healthy. Not from the first day of Spring Training to the end of the season. If he keeps all his body parts intact, it's going to be a lot of fun."

But there's a wistfulness in Kent's eyes when he remembers his San Francisco days, circa 1997 to 2002. And no wonder: Despite his well-publicized feud with Barry Bonds, he had the best years of his career here.

Pairing with Bonds, Kent won the 2000 National League MVP and was an All-Star three times. Even more importantly, the Giants won the NL pennant in 2002 and came within six outs of beating the Angels in the World Series before ultimately losing in seven games.

Giants fans can boo all they want, Kent figures, but they don't know the entire story. As a free agent, he wasn't invited back.

"I didn't have any choice," he said. "But they don't know that. These are good people here. At the end of 2002, I knew the powers that be didn't want me back. But I'm glad [the fans] are still having that kind of reaction. It's kind of cool."

Kent left for Houston and two years later signed with the Dodgers. But to coin an old phrase, he said he left his heart in San Francisco and would've have gladly stayed.

"Sure," he said. "This is where I played six years. This is where I had my best seasons and my best memories. Still. I love where I play now, but I would've never left. I went to school in Berkeley. I had a home here. I don't have a home in L.A. My kids grew up in Foster City, in a great neighborhood. I loved the people in the cul-de-sac we lived in. It just didn't work out."

What's worked out is that Kent, at 39, is on a Hall of Fame track. His 320 homers (of 346 in his career) are the most ever by a Major League second baseman. Ryne Sandberg, who was elected two years ago, is second with 277. Kent's also the only second baseman in big-league history to amass eight seasons knocking in 100 runs or better -- six of them coming in the years he played for the Giants.

Though his 15-year career also lists stops in Toronto, New York with the Mets and Cleveland on his resume, there's a good chance he'll wind up in Cooperstown, N.Y., wearing a San Francisco cap, which is just fine with Kent.

"Hey, it was fun to play here," Kent said. "Still is. The crowd keeps everybody in the game, cheering and booing. It doesn't matter what you do. There's a lot of excitement. It keeps you focused."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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