December 18, 2014

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Lofton connects with Tribe fans, like old times


CLEVELAND — The one thing Kenny Lofton hasn’t been able to do during his time with the Indians is put together two good playoff series at the plate. The one thing Lofton hasn’t been able to do since being traded to Cleveland from the Texas Rangers on July 27 is hit a home run.
“I haven’t had a home run yet and I had seven before I got here,” Lofton said. “The guys have been kind of ragging me for it and they’ve been saying, ‘You’ve got to get one home run.’
“I said, ‘One day I’m going to square one up and it’s going to go out,’ and it happened today.”
Lofton effectively ended both droughts with a two-run shot in the second inning Monday night that helped spark Cleveland to a 4-2 victory in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
It was the 40-year-old’s seventh postseason homer — his fifth with the Indians — and his first since Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS as a member of the New York Yankees, which was also against the Boston Red Sox.
“He’s a big-game player,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “He likes the stage and this is a guy that has a lot of experience in the postseason. He understands how to slow himself down. He understands just what it takes to have the right heartbeat.”
Slowing down isn’t something Lofton is used to doing, and it’s something the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t been able to do to the veteran outfielder, either.
Lofton was batting .346 through his first six postseason games, with two runs scored, three doubles and four RBIs. In the previous eight playoff series with the Indians before this season, Lofton managed to hit over .200 only twice — .458 in the 1995 ALCS and .375 in the 1998 ALDS. The Indians won both series, beating the Seattle Mariners in six games in 1995 and downing the Red Sox in four games in 1998.
The common factor in all of Lofton’s postseasons in Cleveland is the unbridled love the Indians fans show him. The adoration was on display during Lofton’s first at-bat, when the Jacobs Field crowd rose to its feet and began chanting, “Kenny, Kenny.”
Lofton hit Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first pitch 384 feet over the right-center field wall.
“The fans are pretty excited when I come up to the plate, and that’s a good thing for me,” Lofton said. “I just try to enjoy it and I also try to do something. Once you have the fans out there cheering for you, you want to make something happen. I just wanted to be aggressive at that point, and I got lucky.”
Lucky or not, the hit gave the Indians an instant spark and allowed starter Jake Westbrook to settle in and pitch with a lead.
“For (Lofton) to go out there and get us going like that, our first game here at home in this series, that really got us kick-started,” Wedge said.
Lofton was added to the roster in late July because the Indians needed another strong left-handed bat, a speedster on the bases and someone with experience — both in the major leagues and in the postseason.
The latter has been one of the biggest payoffs for the young Tribe players during this postseason.
“I just go out there and tell those guys to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played and have fun with it,” Lofton said. “I say to have fun with it because you might not have this opportunity again. So just relish it and enjoy it.”
Lofton has probably taken his own words to heart. He has been to the postseason 11 times and still hasn’t won a World Series title, and this could be his final shot — a shot he didn’t even expect to have in mid-July while still a member of the Rangers.
“I think these guys are doing it,” Lofton said. “I feel like I’m glad to be the guy going out there that’s been through this before and able to tell them what it takes.”
So far during this postseason, he’s been showing them.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.