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Freese, Bellinger power Dodgers' rout of Bucs

@JakeCrouseMLB
May 25, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers first baseman David Freese got a warm welcome in his return to Pittsburgh, where he played for parts of three seasons before landing with the Dodgers. The PNC Park scoreboard read “Thank you, David” when he came up to bat with the bases loaded in the first.

PITTSBURGH -- Dodgers first baseman David Freese got a warm welcome in his return to Pittsburgh, where he played for parts of three seasons before landing with the Dodgers. The PNC Park scoreboard read “Thank you, David” when he came up to bat with the bases loaded in the first. They even played his walkup song, “Stinkfist” by Tool.

But the cheers from the Pirates faithful gave way to cheers from the Dodgers’ dugout, as Freese greeted the crowd with a first-inning grand slam to break the game open before the Pirates could even step to the plate, and the Dodgers rolled to a 10-2 win.

Box score

“They played my walkout song,” Freese said. “Maybe that’s why [I was] pumped. That fired me up.”

After four of the first five Dodgers batters reached, the third grand slam of Freese’s career gave LA a 5-0 advantage after one out. It was his first grand slam since May 17, 2013, when he knocked one against the Brewers. Oddly enough, that shot made that game 5-0 in the first as well.

“Had a good approach, trying not to roll over, trying to get something in the air,” Freese said of his big at-bat. “Took a good hack … Just had a good plan. It worked out.”

Freese was especially happy to notch the game-winning drive in a city he once called home. He got married to his wife, Mairin, in a coffee shop on the North Side in 2016. On Friday, he went out for pizza with his former Pirates teammates before the game at one of their favorite spots.

“Man, I love it here,” he said. “I love the fans. I love playing at this park ... It’s cool.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts tweaked the lineup a few times before the game, all in the No. 2-6 spots, trying to set his team up best for success against the Pirates’ “opener” strategy. Does he take any credit for what happened in the first inning, fueled by that portion of the order?

“Nope,” he said. “There’s a lot of thought that went through it but, obviously, it takes good players to execute, and they did that.”

Freese is no stranger to timely execution. He’s known as Mr. Game 6 in St. Louis for his 11th-inning walk-off homer in the 2011 World Series, which forced a Game 7 that the Cardinals would eventually win. After Freese was acquired by the Dodgers last year at the August trade deadline, just hours before the Aug. 31 cutoff, he helped the club advance to its second World Series in a row and went 5-for-12 with a triple and a homer there.

But in the regular season for the Dodgers, he’s been used in all kinds of ways. One day, he’ll earn his way into the starting lineup. The next, he might come off the bench. Platoon decisions often factor into when Roberts calls on Freese, an everyday starter for the majority of his career.

That unselfishness and his storied track record has resonated with the Dodgers manager and the rest of the team.

“He walks the walk,” Roberts said. “Everyone wants to be in there, and David’s no exception, but understanding the talent on our roster -- when a guy like that can succumb to a certain role or be ready when called upon, that resonates in that clubhouse. So when you get him doing that, then everyone falls in line.”

It’s easy to get caught gazing at the stars of this powerful LA roster. There’s Cody Bellinger with his home run tear, which he extended Friday with a bolt over right field for his 18th long ball.Hyun-Jin Ryu is working his way into the record books with his 31 consecutive innings of scoreless ball, which he carries into his start on Saturday. Mainstays like Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner all continue to live up to the attention they receive.

But sometimes, it’s a guy like Freese who whittles his way into a loaded lineup -- thanks to his proven track record and consistent contributions -- that makes the biggest difference when his number is called.

“He just makes us better in so many ways,” Roberts said.

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.