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Lofton's HR leads Indians to 2-1 series lead over Red Sox

Fans cheer Cleveland Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook (37) as he leaves the game in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox Monday in Cleveland. The Indians won 4-2 to lead the series two games to one.
Fans cheer Cleveland Indians pitcher Jake Westbrook (37) as he leaves the game in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox Monday in Cleveland. The Indians won 4-2 to lead the series two games to one.
Tony Dejak, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Kenny Lofton was on the move again — just 360 feet around the bases this time, but enough for the Cleveland Indians.

He needed just one swing to help Cleveland take control of the AL championship series.

"I just wanted to try to be aggressive at that point, and I got lucky," Lofton said.

The well-traveled Lofton's two-run homer off Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka gave the Indians an early lead and they went on to beat Boston 4-2 Monday night to take a 2-1 lead in the ALCS.

Like the long-suffering Indians, Lofton has spent years searching for a World Series title. He's been doing his part this month to change that for both him and the Tribe.

"I think these guys are going out and playing team ball and it's unbelievable," Lofton said.

Lofton's 384-foot shot in the second inning barely cleared the right-field wall. It gave Cleveland a 2-0 lead and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

"It was a really pivotal point," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Dice-K throws a fastball that runs, I think, middle in to Kenny, ends up being a big swing."

Lofton happily jogged back to the dugout and was congratulated by teammates, including a wild hand-slapping session with Victor Martinez, both grinning broadly.

He then climbed the dugout steps and tipped his helmet as fans cheered for a curtain call from the popular left fielder, the Indians' only link to their power-hitting teams of the late '90s.

"For a guy who's been in the league for so long, there's a bounce to his step and that excitement in his eyes," teammate Ryan Garko said. "For a young guy to see that out of Kenny, obviously you know how important this is."

He was greeted with chants of "KEN-NY, KEN-NY" when he returned to the plate in the fourth.

"The fans are pretty excited when I come up to the plate," Lofton said. "I just try to enjoy it, and I also try to do something."

The 40-year-old became the seventh-oldest player to homer in a postseason game. It was his first since Game 1 of the 2004 ALCS when he was a member of the New York Yankees facing the Red Sox.

"His experience is invaluable," Indians closer Joe Borowski said. "He comes in there and ignites things. He may be 40 but he plays like he's 20. You can't say enough about the spark he gave us."

Lofton, who is playing in his 11th postseason and sixth in seven years, is having one of his finest Octobers, hitting .345 (10-for-29) with three doubles, a home run and six RBIs.

Lofton's drive against Boston was his first homer since he joined the Indians for the third time in a July 27th trade with Texas for minor league catcher Max Ramirez.

It was a perfect fit from the start.

The Indians needed a speedy, left-handed hitter and Lofton needed another team that would give him the chance to play well into the fall.

Lofton played the night he joined the team, got three hits and was immediately initiated with a strawberry pie in the face during a postgame interview — a tradition started by Trot Nixon after home wins.

Lofton was a pest against the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs — even scoring the winning run in pivotal Game 2, aka, "The Bug Game."

He hit seven home runs this season with the Rangers, and his lack of one with Cleveland was the subject of clubhouse razzing.

"He's got old man's power and an old man's swing," joked third baseman Casey Blake said.

Garko wasn't surprised he finally connected.

"He's been talking about just missing balls since he got here," he said. "He's got some pop. He just picks his spots."

Lofton has spent all or part of 10 season with Cleveland, but he's better known as a journeyman who always seems to land on a team headed for the playoffs.

His stints with 11 teams even prompted a marketing deal with shipping company with DHL, which is airing a commercial showing drivers not knowing what stadium to take his packages.

Lofton is playing in his seventh league championship series and has been to the World Series twice — with Cleveland in 1995 and San Francisco in 2002.