CLEVELAND -- The temperatures, hovering in the high 70s, said August on Thursday night at Jacobs Field.

The atmosphere, stirred by a hopeful city that's waited more than 50 years for a baseball champion, said otherwise.

"Being here, this kind of feels like Christmas," said Chet Omilanowski, 48, of Brooklyn, Ohio. "It's incredible."

As playoff baseball returned to Cleveland for the first time in six years for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees, the town worked itself into a frenzy. October baseball, once viewed as a birthright for Indians fans, was most assuredly no longer being taken for granted.

Fans lined the park's gates hours before they opened, downtown bars overflowed and the demand for tickets was greater than at any point this decade.

Not since 1995 has the city been so behind its baseball club.

"This is so sweet. I am so fired up right now," said Kyle Harris, 27, of Clyde, as he clutched a cardboard sign marked, "The Incredible Pronk." "On a scale of one to 10, my excitement level is probably a 12."

Many fans pointed to the Tribe-Yankees series offering a final validation of the Indians' rebirth and to the dawn of a string of contenders.

"I didn't think it would ever happen again, so this is phenomenal," said Bill Boyer, 24, of Toledo. "Now, I just want a World Series so bad."

For others, the excitement lied in the sheer improbability of the Tribe running away with what many once considered baseball's toughest division, the AL Central. Despite a smaller payroll, a flurry of early injuries and one of the bizarre opening months in franchise history, here were the Indians.

"Just like in 1997, this year's team wasn't supposed to go anywhere," said John Adams, Jacobs Field's venerable bleacher dweller/drummer. "But they forgot to tell the players that, and that's why they're so lovable."

Heck, some fans even claimed this was the best Tribe club since 1948, the year of the Indians' last title. The reason? C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, the players whom fans devotedly declared baseball's top starting tandem.

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"This run probably means more to me than the 90s," Omilanowski said. "This time, we have a better chance of the winning the World Series because of the pitching. It's exciting."

Said Ken Boyer, 58, of Toledo, "You just feel like we have such a chance this year. What a great opportunity to be a part of something like this."

There was just one small worry. If the fans were so energized, so anticipating this push through October, what about the players?

"If they're half as nervous as I am, they couldn't play," said Rhonda Mack, a 42-year-old season ticket holder from Youngstown. "Wow, I'm so excited. I want a title so bad, and so does everyone.

"I was here when [the Indians] clinched, but it's going to be twice as crazy tonight."