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Freddie Freeman is crowned homecoming king in Dodgers’ victory over Reds

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman high-fives teammates in the dugout.
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring on a run-single by Trea Turner during the eighth inning of a 9-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Before the game, one of the loudest ovations belonged to the Dodgerslongest-tenured player.

At the height of Thursday night’s home opener, however, a sold-out Dodger Stadium was chanting for the team’s newest star.

In his first regular-season home game since signing with the Dodgers last month, Freddie Freeman delivered the loudest blow in the team’s 9-3 win against the Cincinnati Reds, lacing a leadoff double in the eighth to spark the team’s six-run, game-winning rally.

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As Freeman pulled into second base, a crowd of 52,995 rose to its feet. Chanting along to the trumpeting beat of Dayvi’s “Baila Conmigo,” the fans shouted “Fred-die! Fred-die!” until the $162-million first baseman acknowledged them with a tap of his chest and left-handed wave.

In a showcase of who they are and what they hope to be this October, the Dodgers recognize Jaime Jarrín and the fans welcome Freddie Freeman back home.

April 14, 2022

“What an amazing first night,” said Freeman, the Orange County native who had a suite full of family and friends in attendance. “It’s just special when 50,000 people can create a moment that you’ll never forget.”

Freeman scored the go-ahead run on a Trea Turner RBI single in the next at-bat. Will Smith blew the score open with a three-run home run later in the inning. Then the Dodgers tacked on a couple more to pull away for good.

Postgame, the rest of the team marveled at Freeman’s reception.

“All the fans in the stadium tonight,” manager Dave Roberts said, “that was their way of putting their arms around him … He was getting emotional. That was pretty special.”

Echoed Cody Bellinger: “I got goosebumps in the dugout, I really did.”

Before the Dodgers’ newest star shined Thursday night, it was a day-old storyline surrounding the longtime face of the franchise that generated the most pregame buzz.

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman acknowledges the crowd.
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman acknowledges the crowd after reaching second on a ground-rule double in the eighth inning.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Barely 24 hours after Clayton Kershaw had been removed from Wednesday’s game after seven perfect innings, the decision was still reverberating before Thursday’s first pitch.

As TVs inside the Dodgers clubhouse showed MLB Network pundits debating the move, Kershaw met with reporters for a second straight day, once again backing Roberts’ decision to lift him six outs away from a perfect game.

“The only thing I feel bad for is, if I was a fan, I would want to see somebody finish the game,” Kershaw said. “So, from a fan’s perspective, I do feel bad for that. I wish I could have done it. But yesterday wasn’t the day.”

Roberts reiterated his explanation during a pregame news conference, then praised Kershaw’s handling of the situation.

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“What he said yesterday really set the tone for the 2022 Dodgers, that he’s here to win, and anything other than that would be selfish,” Roberts said. “When you’re talking about a person who’s done everything in the game, for him to say that, that resonates in our clubhouse.”

It resonated with the fans, too, who showered Kershaw with one of the loudest ovations during pregame introductions.

“The individual stuff is not why I continue to play the game,” Kershaw said. “I want to win.”

That’s exactly what the Dodgers did against the Reds, picking up their third in a row to improve to 4-2 on the season.

Unlike a pregame fighter jet flyover that was mistimed with the national anthem, the Dodgers started in sync, scoring three runs on five consecutive singles in the opening inning.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw understands why some fans might have been disappointed he didn’t get a chance to finish a perfect game.

April 14, 2022

Freeman sparked that rally, too, sending a first-pitch fastball back up the middle. Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Smith registered base hits of their own to make it 3-0.

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Walker Buehler seemed to have the game under control from there. Despite facing a bases-loaded jam in the second and having a couple of runners reach in the third, Buehler escaped any damage through five innings.

One out away from a scoreless sixth, however, Buehler made a mistake. After walking Tyler Stephenson, the right-hander threw an elevated fastball that Aristides Aquino got the barrel to, whacking a two-run home run to center field.

It was Buehler’s last pitch of the night. As he returned to the dugout, he slammed his glove against the bench in frustration.

In 1972, 25 years after he broke MLB’s color barrier, Robinson reflected on the ongoing fight for equality. Former Times sportswriter Ron Rapoport recounts that interview just months before Robinson’s death.

April 14, 2022

“Obviously, with how our pitching has been, especially yesterday, you want to go and throw the ball well, so maybe tried to do a little too much,” Buehler said. “But it is what it is. I think we’ll kind of settle back in.”

Buehler’s replacement, David Price, gave up a two-out home run to Brandon Drury an inning later, knotting the score at 3-3.

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But then in the eighth, Freeman came to the plate and drove a middle-of-the-zone cutter the other way. As he stopped at second base, he couldn’t help but look up and smile as his new home ballpark joyously chanted his name.

“First game in Dodger Stadium as a Dodger,” he said, “I don’t think it could have got much better.”

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