‘Oldtimer’ Lofton Is Sparking The Indians

By Susan Slusser
Updated: October 17, 2007

CLEVELAND — These are the new, shiny, rebuilt Indians. Albert Belle is gone, Omar Vizquel is with the Giants and Manny Ramirez is on the other side of this American League Championship Series, having spent the past seven seasons in Boston.

Cleveland retains one link to its great teams of the mid-to-late ’90s, though. Kenny Lofton returned in midsummer, acquired from Texas.

And on Monday, the 40-year-old outfielder thrilled the Jacobs Field crowd again, this time with a two-out homer in the second inning. The Indians led the rest of the way, downing the Red Sox 4-2 and taking a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.

After Tuesday’s Game 4 win, the Indians are looking to return to the World Series for the first time since 1997. “It’s still early,” Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko said. “We just need to come out and stay with what we do.”

Lofton is the seventh-oldest player to homer in a postseason game.

He’s hitting .345 this postseason, his 11th overall. In seven LCS appearances, he has a .281 average. Lofton has played 91 postseason games altogether, the seventh most all-time.

“Kenny’s done this before,” Indians closer Joe Borowski said. “He played here before when they were selling out games, he knows the electricity. His experience is invaluable and he ignites things. He may be 40, but Kenny plays like he’s 20.”

The Indians picked Lofton up July 27 in exchange for minor-league catcher Max Ramirez, and Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said Monday, “The majority of it was that we felt that Kenny was a left-handed bat who would complement the lineup well. The secondary benefit was his postseason experience for a team that doesn’t have a lot.”

With one out in the second inning, Garko recorded the Indians’ first hit off Daisuke Matsuzaka, a solid single up the middle, and with two outs, Lofton hammered the first pitch he got off the top of the wall in right, clipping the yellow line on a bounce.

“Kenny has been talking about just missing balls since he got here in July,” Garko said with a laugh. “So it was, ‘I told you so, I told you so.’ “

It was Lofton’s first homer since rejoining the Indians and he said, “The guys have been ragging me for it ever since I’ve been here. I haven’t hit a home run and I had seven before I got here. These guys have been saying, ‘You’ve got to get one home run.’ I told Garko yesterday, ‘I keep missing them, I don’t know what’s going on, but one day I’m going to square one up and it’s going to go out.’ ”

Lofton took a quick curtain call after the crowd began to chant his name. For all his postseason experience, Lofton has yet to win a World Series. His Indians lost to Atlanta in the 1995 World Series and he was with the Giants in 2002 when they fell to the Angels.

Garko described Lofton as having “a bounce to his step and excitement in his eyes,” but, Garko added, “He’s stressed to us, ‘Don’t take anything for granted, if you’re 21 or 40.’ He’s playing like a man who knows how important this is.”

Cleveland put up two more runs in the fifth, when Casey Blake singled with one out and took second on a wild pitch. Grady Sizemore walked, and rookie second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera lined a 2-2 pitch from Matsuzaka to center to send in Blake, and Sizemore came around on a fielder’s choice grounder by Travis Hafner.

Boston’s only runs came on Jason Varitek’s two-run home to center on a 2-2 pitch from Jake Westbrook.

Westbrook turned in the best outing by a Cleveland starter in the series, going 62/3 innings and allowing those two runs on seven hits, with three walks. His key moment came in the second: The Red Sox loaded the bases after an error by Garko, but Westbrook got Varitek to pop to short left, then coaxed a double-play ball from Coco Crisp.

“That was a really pivotal point,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.

Westbrook induced three double plays in all, including one from Ramirez to end the sixth, despite going 3-0 on the Boston left fielder.

Jensen Lewis replaced Westbrook with one on in the seventh and struck out Dustin Pedroia to end the inning. Rafael Betancourt continued his scoreless postseason with a perfect eighth, setting down Kevin Youkilis (strikeout), David Ortiz (lineout) and Ramirez (pop-up).

The Youkilis at-bat was especially intriguing; Betancourt had thrown Youkilis 11 fastballs before getting him to line to center Saturday, and on Monday, he struck out Youkilis with a changeup.

Borowski pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save of the postseason.