CLEVELAND — This is what the Indians brought Kenny Lofton back to do — shine in the postseason spotlight.
With a roster packed full of inexperienced players, especially when it came to October, Cleveland brought Lofton back for his third term with the team. It’s paid off, with the
40-year-old outfielder providing veteran assistance and more throughout the club’s playoff run.
“He’s been there before,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “He understands where his heartbeat needs to be to be successful. I think that’s good for the other guys to see.
“I just try to tell guys to just play the game and have fun with it,” said Lofton, a veteran of 16 big league seasons and 19 postseason series (eight with the Indians), but no World Series ring. “Even though it’s the playoffs and it’s a situation where you’re going to do or die, have fun with it. Just relish it and enjoy it.
“I’m glad to be the guy that’s been through this before and am able to tell these guys what it takes.”
Lofton has been more than a clubhouse leader capable of providing sage advice to young players. He’s also producing on the field, where he’s hitting .333 (11-for-33) with three doubles, a homer and six RBIs and has not made an error in eight postseason games in left field.
His stolen base Tuesday in a 7-3 Game 4 victory moved him past Rickey Henderson and into the lead on the all-time postseason list with 34 steals.
“It’s helped lengthen our lineup a little bit,” Wedge said of Lofton’s addition. “He’s a guy that can get it going for you. He’s a big-game player, and he enjoys being up there or making a play when you really need one.”
And for that, Indians fans, who view Lofton as a link to the team’s past glory, have grown to love him. He is showered with chants of “Ken-ny, Ken-ny,” each time he steps to the plate at Jacobs Field.
“They’re obviously showing him a great deal of respect and admiration,” Wedge said. “I think they respect the fact that this guy is still playing and having success — for their team. He’s come in here and fit in well. I think he really enjoys being part of this team.”
“I think it was an omen for me to come back and try to win this thing,” Lofton said.
Tribe talks Manny
Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach and reliever Jensen Lewis ripped Manny Ramirez for an elongated pose on his homer off Lewis in the sixth inning of Game 4, which only drew the Sox to within four runs of the Indians.
Paul Byrd was more diplomatic.
“That’s his business. That’s his choice,” he said. “It didn’t make a lot of sense ’cause they were down, but maybe he just got excited because it’s the postseason and all that.”
With a 3-1 ALCS lead and a chance to clinch at home, have the Indians already begun to ponder the prospect of playing in the World Series?
“That’s something you don’t even think about until it’s said and done,” Lewis said. “We’ve got a big game (today), the biggest of the season.”
Knuckler nixes Pronk
No one had more trouble hitting the knuckleball of Boston’s Game 4 starter Tim Wakefield more than Travis Hafner, who is hitting .226 (7-for-31) with two homers and four RBIs in eight playoff games. Cleveland’s designated hitter struck out all three times he faced Wakefield — four in four at-bats on the night — swinging and missing a third strike each time.
“Wakefield’s knuckleball was amazing,” said Byrd, who outlasted the right-hander to get his second postseason win in two starts. “It didn’t look like we were ever going to hit it.”
The Indians finally did, catching up to Wakefield in a seven-run fifth inning that broke the game open.
Garko likes his rest
Though baseball fans probably didn’t feel the same way Wednesday, Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko was in favor of the off day, which, since the NL champion has already been decided, left no playoff game on the schedule.
“I like them,” Garko said of off days in the postseason. “It’s October and we’ve played a lot of games. We’ve got a lot of young guys in their first full season. I think it helps us.”
There are no such built-in off days on the World Series schedule, with teams only getting a breather when the series shifts sites on the travel day.
Jo-Bo case closed
Wedge was asked Wednesday if he was amused by the national perception that AL saves leader Joe Borowski is a shaky closer.
“I am amused,” Wedge said. “I think it’s ridiculous, really. It’s black and white, either you get it done or you don’t. If you talk about saves, that’s what it’s all about, and he had 45, more than anybody in the American League. He was the best closer in the American League.”
Borowski did lead the league in saves, but he also posted an inordinately high 5.07 ERA.
Grady still the man
Does the adoration from the female population at Jacobs Field ever get old for Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore? Are you kidding me?
“It’s fun,” said Sizemore, who was rumored to have had a steady girlfriend this season. “I’m just here to play baseball, but you want the fans to like you. The fans have been great here, and I love that.”
Sizemore was asked to name the strangest thing he’s ever autographed.
“Body part,” he said.
Including their 6-2 mark in the postseason, the Indians are 37-14 since Aug. 15.
• As he did in Game 1, Boston manager Terry Francona will go with Bobby Kielty tonight in right field over J.D. Drew. Kielty, a lifetime .323 (10-for-31) hitter off Game 5 starter C.C. Sabathia, went 1-for-2 with a two-run single in Boston’s 10-3 victory Friday.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.