Before first pitch Monday night, Dodgers fans gave their former closer a standing ovation.
By the bottom of the first inning, their new first baseman had them in a raucous uproar.
On a night when the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves renewed their budding rivalry, it was each team’s newest star — and the other team’s former franchise favorite — who commanded the brightest spotlight.
Kenley Jansen returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time since signing with the Braves this offseason, receiving a warm reception during a pregame ceremony.
Freddie Freeman faced the Braves for the first time since coming to L.A. in the spring, hitting a home run in his first at-bat against his old club and setting the tone in the Dodgers’ 7-4 win.
“The adrenaline is definitely up today,” Jansen said before the game.
“Emotions are all over the place,” Freeman echoed.
Those sentiments had been building throughout the afternoon.
When Jansen showed up to the ballpark, he had to ask a Braves staffer how to get to the visitors’ clubhouse. After 350 saves, three All-Star selections and a World Series championship with the Dodgers, it was his first time being a visitor at Chavez Ravine.
“Weird, man,” said Jansen, who signed a one-year, $16-million contract as a free agent. “The only thing I knew was being a Dodger.”
Freeman, on the other hand, was out on the field early in the afternoon. He headed straight to the visiting dugout, where he embraced Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos and other team personnel. Then he went into their clubhouse, seeing most of his old teammates for the first time since their World Series parade last year.
“I’m just happy to be able to see all the guys,” Freeman said. “We won a championship together last year, so that’s what we’re all talking about over there.”
A few minutes before the game, the Dodgers played a video tribute to Jansen on the scoreboard, then honored him with an on-field ceremony that included third baseman Justin Turner, manager Dave Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
Jansen’s longtime entrance song, “California Love,” blared from the speakers. A still-arriving crowd rose to its feet in applause.
“I always appreciate them,” Jansen of Dodgers fans, who occasionally booed him near the end of his tenure with the team. “They were hard on me at the end. I understand that because I’ve … put such a high standard for myself.”
But, Jansen added: “I love them, and I know they will love me.”
Freeman, however, has become the franchise’s newest object of affection. And on Monday, he answered their latest chants of “Fred-die!” with a stirring, sentimental moment.
In the bottom of the first inning, Freeman crushed an outside fastball the other way, lining his first home run with the Dodgers over the wall in left-center field — jolting the crowd of 52,052 to life.
When Freeman took the field a half-inning later, the first baseman sheepishly grinned as he peeked over at his old team’s dugout.
“As the game went on, there were a couple smiles here and there from staff members and people I spent a lot of time with,” Freeman said. “It’s just a special day, one I’ll always remember.”
At first, it looked as if the Dodgers (8-2) would cruise the rest of the night.
Clayton Kershaw, in his first start since being pulled six outs shy of a perfect game last week, began the game with four scoreless innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Dodgers surged to a 6-0 lead after RBIs by Cody Bellinger and Edwin Ríos and a three-run double from Trea Turner.
Kershaw began to waver soon after, giving up solo home runs to Guillermo Heredia and Ozzie Albies before leaving behind two more baserunners with no outs in the sixth.
They each scored against Brusdar Graterol to make it 6-4, but that was the only damage the Braves (5-7) did to the Dodgers’ bullpen, which was missing Blake Treinen because of an arm issue.
Daniel Hudson pitched a scoreless seventh. Phil Bickford had a clean season debut in the eighth. And, after a Bellinger eighth-inning home run gave the Dodgers a three-run lead, Craig Kimbrel got his third save in the ninth, securing the Dodgers’ seventh straight win — and Freeman’s first against his old team.
“There’s no story line for anything like this, no poetic justice or anything like that,” Freeman said.
“I love the Atlanta Braves. Always will love the Atlanta Braves. I was just glad I was able to help the Dodgers win.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism