CLEVELAND -- Kenny Lofton has been telling his Indians teammates to seize the opportunity that is the postseason, because one never knows when it will come again. That might seem like strange advice from a guy who has had the luxury of playing in 11 postseasons in 13 years, but Lofton knows nothing is guaranteed in this game. All he has to do is look at the absence of World Series rings on his hands for proof of that.
"That's what keeps me coming back," the 40-year-old Lofton said. "The reason I'm playing is the excitement that happens down the stretch." Lofton picked up his play down the stretch for this Indians club. From the time he was moved to the No. 7 spot of the lineup on Aug. 25, he hit .296 (29-for-98) with three triples and 14 RBIs. "He's been a boost for us," manager Eric Wedge said of Lofton, who was acquired shortly before the July 31 trading deadline. "We've used him primarily in the seven-hole, and it really gives the bottom half of the lineup an entirely different feel and look. Kenny's given us a lot more length to our lineup." The length of Lofton's career and his return to his Indians roots gives him a unique perspective in a Tribe clubhouse filled with players experiencing October for the first time. "These guys remind me of myself in '95, when I made it to the playoffs for the first time," Lofton said. Inevitably, people want Lofton to compare this team to that '95 club, which won 100 games in a 144-game regular season but fell in six games to the Braves in the World Series. Though this team certainly has its share of interesting personalities, nothing can compare to that '95 club, Lofton said. "What made '95 so special was we had so many characters," he said. "I felt sorry for [manager Mike] Hargrove. He understood he couldn't control us off the field. But on the field, he knew what we were trying to do." This installment of the Indians is little more down-to-earth. And Lofton wants them to stay that way in the playoffs. "I tell them to just play the game," Lofton said. "The media is going to make a big deal out of it, but if you look at it as a game, nothing will change." Here's the question ... In Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS between the Indians and Yankees, a pair of pitchers squared off who had also opposed each other in the 1988 playoffs. Can you name those two pitchers?That the two clubs are facing each other in the first round, with the Indians holding the home-field advantage, speaks to the unpredictable nature of the game. But like the 0-6 mark, Wedge isn't harping on the payroll discrepancy, either. "It's just a baseball team versus a baseball team," Wedge said. "We're both in the same spot. All the teams that are in the playoffs have accomplished a great deal to get here. Now, we start over." Tribe tidbits: Pregame festivities for Game 1 include the national anthem performed by the Cleveland Orchestra Double String Quartet and the ceremonial first pitch thrown out by superfan and bleacher drummer John Adams. ... Much has been made of the Yankees facing C.C. Sabathia for the first time in three years on Thursday. But the Indians didn't face 19-game winner Wang all year, either. "He's a fantastic pitcher," Wedge said of Wang, "with the way he comes right at hitters, the way he pounds the zone and puts the ball on the ground." ... Wedge was asked if he'd like to see the ALDS expanded to a seven-game format. "I don't care," he said. "It doesn't matter to me." And the answer is ... The Indians' Orel Hershiser opposed the Yanks' Dwight Gooden. The two faced each other in 1988 NLCS, when Hershiser was with the Dodgers and Gooden was with the Mets. On deck: At long last, the Indians will open the ALDS against the Yanks at 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday at Jacobs Field. Sabathia, the last Tribe pitcher to win a postseason game, will start opposite Wang. Gates open two hours before the first pitch, and, because of the start time, fans are encouraged to use RTA public transportation by bus or rail service into the city and to arrive in their seats 45 minutes before the game starts.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.