Lofton turns back the clock in Game 1

Lofton turns back the clock in Game 1

CLEVELAND -- Chants of "Kenny, Kenny" coursed through the sellout crowd at Jacobs Field as Kenny Lofton strode to the plate during the first inning Thursday night.

Moments later, the words faded into a frothing din, as Lofton laced a two-run single up the middle to put the Indians ahead by two.

It was as if nothing had changed. Time had seemingly stood still from the last time No. 7 played October baseball in Cleveland six years ago.

Lofton hit -- he went 3-for-4 with a double and four RBIs. He delivered in the clutch -- his first-inning single was perhaps the night's defining hit. And he ran, stealing a record-tying bag in Cleveland's 12-3 dusting of the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

His steal in the fifth inning was his 33rd career postseason swipe, tying him with Rickey Henderson for the all-time playoff record.

Feel like old times, Kenny?

"Yeah, it was a little special," he said. "I think the fans still remember me from '95 and all the years that I played in the playoffs here. ... The fans are all excited and getting fired up about what's going on. This city needs a championship."

The championship drive, of course, is why the Tribe acquired Lofton from Texas just before the trading deadline. And not only for his left-handed bat, which he used to batter New York's ace right-hander Chien-Ming Wang on Thursday. It was his experience, his big-game familiarity, the veteran leadership he could offer such a youthful team.

As third baseman Casey Blake said, "He's been delivering for years."

Lofton had been to the postseason 10 times, in fact, and it was for games like these the Tribe's front office envisioned.

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Even before the game, Lofton was busy calming down starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who could barely stand still in the hours before the first pitch.

"He was so excited. He was trying to get out there," Lofton said. "I'm like, 'C.C. we've got time. The game doesn't start until 6:30. Just relax.'"

Lofton then went out and had one of his career's biggest postseason games. His single in the first drove in a pair, his single in the fifth drove in one more, and his double in the sixth scored yet another.

"Kenny is a big-game player," manager Eric Wedge said, "and he's really given us a boost in the bottom of our lineup."

Said first baseman Ryan Garko, "We've got to lean on the guys that have been here before, and nobody's been here more than Kenny."

Of course, Lofton knows all those postseason showings matter little if the playoff run ends early. Yet after shuffling through 10 teams, the 40-year-old Lofton thinks this could, at last, be the year, the storybook season he ends by helping bring a title to the long-suffering city he's played in for 10 years.

"That's my biggest thing right now," Lofton said. "I look at trying to get a ring."

A few more performances like Thursday certainly wouldn't hurt.

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.