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Timeless Lofton gives Indians edge

Timeless Lofton gives Indians edge

By: By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) — Every swing, every out, every win, Kenny Lofton brings closer to an October unlike all the others.

At 40 years young, he’s still chasing an elusive World Series ring.

Once again, it’s within reach.

For Lofton, and the Cleveland Indians.

Lofton’s two-run homer in the second inning set the tone for Jake Westbrook, who kept Boston grounded for almost seven innings Monday night as the Indians moved one game up on the Red Sox with a 4-2 win in Game 3 of the AL championship series.

Underdogs when baseball’s consummate month opened, the Indians, who knocked the New York Yankees out in the first round, lead the best-of-seven series 2-1.

And with two more wins at frenzied Jacobs Field, they can earn their first World
Series trip since 1997.

“This club,” third baseman Casey Blake said, “believes in itself.”

Playing in his 91st postseason game, the well-traveled Lofton, with his ninth team in the past six years, ignited a crowd of 44,402 towel-swinging fans with a shot over the right-field wall against Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka.

After rounding the bases and slapping hands with teammates, coaches, trainers and seemingly anyone near Cleveland’s dugout, Lofton emerged for a curtain call and tipped his helmet as chants of “Ken-ny, Ken-ny,” filled the air.

It’s been that way since Lofton returned to Cleveland in a trade from Texas in July. This is his third stint with the Indians, one of the 11 teams he’s called his own during an odyssey that has crisscrossed baseball’s map.

“He’s a big-game player,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “He likes the stage. He understands just what it takes to have the right heartbeat.”

And Lofton’s is pounding like a kid’s.

As Indians fans danced their way toward the exits following the game, Lofton was asked if he felt 40.

“No,” he said. “I feel 25.”

He’s playing like a man half his age, and the unknown Indians, despite a lack of postseason experience, are acting as if they’ve been doing this for years.

“These guys are going out and playing team ball,” Lofton said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Westbrook, often overlooked in Cleveland’s top-heavy starting rotation, got the Red Sox to hit into three double plays, the biggest to end the second after Boston loaded the bases with none out.

The laid-back Georgian doesn’t possess the overpowering stuff of either C.C. Sabathia or Fausto Carmona — Cleveland’s two aces who flopped badly in Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park — or their stellar reputations.

But Westbrook does have a devastating sinkerball, and it dropped on the Red Sox like a safe falling from a window.

“I was able to make good pitches when I needed to,” said Westbrook, roughed up
last week in a loss at Yankee Stadium. “I’m a sinkerball guy. That’s what I live and die by. I threw that all night.”

At the Jake, this Jake was all the Indians needed.

Game 4 on Tuesday night will feature two soft tossers: Cleveland’s Paul Byrd, with his old-school windup, and Boston’s Tim Wakefield, the 41-year-old knuckleballing master who hasn’t pitched Sept. 29.

The Red Sox, who rallied from an 0-3 deficit in the 2004 ALCS against New York, are counting on past postseason success to pull them through.

“We’ve been in worse situations,” David Ortiz said. “But we have to produce. It’s that simple.”

The Red Sox grounded into three double plays, two of them by October’s scariest twosome — Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

They also combined for something even more unusual: Ramirez’s grounder nailed Big Papi in the leg on the basepaths between second and third for an easy out that helped Westbrook..

After Lofton homered, the Indians added two runs in the fifth against Dice-K, the high-priced Japanese import whom the Red Sox invested more than $100 million in to pitch in games like this.

By comparison, Westbrook was a bargain at $33 million for the Indians, who locked him up in April for three more years before he had a chance to test the free-agent market after this season.

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