10/09/2003 1:09 AM ET
Lofton at his best being a pest
CHICAGO -- You don't have to like Kenny Lofton. Plenty of opponents don't. In fact, that's sort of the point. Lofton is a pest. He slaps one single after another, putting himself in position to score when the big guys in the middle of the Cubs order come to the plate.
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
It's an m.o. he has been working on for years, dating back to when he was the setup man for guys such as Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez in Cleveland. He did it in Atlanta. He did it in San Francisco last year. And now he's doing it for the Cubs -- who are of course playing in the postseason, like all of Lofton's teams seem to do.
But Lofton did even himself one better on Wednesday night, rapping out four base hits -- all singles, of course -- and placing himself in the middle of seemingly every Cubs rally in a 12-3 thrashing of the Marlins. He tied an NL Championship Series record, becoming the 15th player to tally four knocks in an NLCS game. He also joined Stan Hack as the only two Cubs to have four hits in any postseason game.
It's safe to say he plays like he has been here before. Because he has.
"It helps out to have an understanding when you come down the stretch how important everything is," he said. "Every run, every hit, every guy on base, it's important to try to get that guy in."
Performances like this are exactly why the Cubs brought Lofton over from Pittsburgh in mid-season -- to be the leadoff man they haven't had since ... who knows when?
Lofton doesn't take walks as much as he used to, doesn't fly on the bases quite like he used to and isn't the Gold Glove-caliber center fielder he once was. But he's still a pest with the best of them. And that's just the way the Cubs like it.
For the postseason as a whole, he's batting .367 (11-for-30) with six runs scored in seven games. He has driven in three runs -- two of them Wednesday -- and stolen six bases. Maybe Lofton should have been featured in Major League Baseball's "I live for this" campaign.
"That's my main objective every year going into the season," he said, "is to be on a team that gets to the playoffs. Because I know how exciting it is and I've been in there for a while. I know how much fun you can have. At the beginning of the year, I just hope I can be on a team that gets to the playoffs."
Along with Aramis Ramirez, Lofton came over to the Cubs from Pittsburgh on July 22. Ramirez patched a gaping hole at third base while Lofton took over in center and as the leadoff hitter.
So far, so good. Lofton might not be the reason for the Cubs' success -- that credit needs to go mostly to Mark Prior and Kerry Wood -- but he's definitely been a part of it.
"I think it started in the last month of the season, where everybody started gelling during that drive to win the Central title," said shortstop Alex Gonzalez. "Our lineup really started clicking and falling into the right (places). You've got Kenny Lofton in the leadoff spot, getting on base and making things happen for the middle of the lineup."
Sammy Sosa's mammoth two-run homer in the second inning Wednesday scored Lofton, who had singled on a bouncing single up the middle. Lofton in turn had already driven in Paul Bako after Bako singled and moved up on a sacrifice. Lofton actually knocked in Bako twice, doing it again in the third with a single after the catcher had doubled.
After Chicago struggled with runners in scoring position in the Division Series, Lofton is even helping to cure that ill.
"We've gotten runners on base," he said. "We haven't gotten runs in all the time, but we've gotten on base. And eventually if you get runners on base, things can happen."
Like a 12-run outburst against one of the nastier young righties in the NL, Brad Penny, and a typically tough Marlins bullpen.
As for getting under people's skin, it may happen, but Lofton doesn't worry about it.
"I don't look at it that way," he said. "I just go out there and do what I do."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.