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Forever a Cardinals postseason hero, David Freese received the obligatory standing ovation before his first at-bat of the game as an opponent Thursday night, even though he has been gone for five years.

The loud reception seemed even more extended than in some of the other appearances he had made for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the past few years. Now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his first at-bat was more extended, too.

Hitting with runners at second and third and one out, Freese stretched his appearance against Cardinals rookie Austin Gomber to 14 pitches, nine of them foul balls, before he sent a smash past third baseman Jedd Gyorko.

By the time left fielder Marcell Ozuna had corralled the ball, which had rolled past him, two runs had scored and Freese had his first triple in five years at Busch Stadium. Some 8½ innings later, the Dodgers had managed to hold on for a 9-7 victory and had moved one game behind the Cardinals for a potential second wild-card berth in the National League. The Dodgers remained 1½ games behind Colorado for first place in the West Division.

The loss was the first for lefthander Gomber, who had won his first five decisions for the Cardinals. Afterward, he said he had repaired to the video room to watch the at-bat again.

“I threw him everything I had,” Gomber said. “The first 13 pitches were good pitches and the 14th one wasn’t and he made me pay. He was able to foul them and wait until I made a mistake.

“That was just the way the night went.”

Manager Mike Shildt thought Freese’s at-bat created a twofold advantage for the Dodgers. “I think the hitter tends to win more of them and the thing you’ll notice is that the subsequent hitters have an advantage, as well,” said Shildt.

Freese scored a third run in the first inning on Matt Kemp’s bloop single. The Cardinals immediately put runners at second and third with nobody out in their first against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. But the Cardinals managed only one run out of that, on Ozuna’s infield out which gave him the club RBI lead at 81. The Cardinals’ failure to make more out of that inning was a turning point.

The Dodgers scored in the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Justin Turner and Manny Machado, with Turner’s going out of the glove of Ozuna who jumped in front of the left-field wall.

Los Angeles tacked on three more against on Gomber and one off Tyson Ross in the fourth with Kershaw, faking a bunt, singling for his 99th career hit to fill the bases before Chris Taylor doubled off Ross.

Gomber (5-1) allowed seven runs and nine hits in three innings. “I’ve been bad before and I’ll be bad again at some point,” he said.

“So far, since I’ve been in the rotation, I’ve given us a chance to win and tonight I didn’t. Five days from now, hopefully we’re having a different conversation.”

Gomber very much had been looking forward to the matchup with Kershaw.

“For sure, Kershaw’s somebody I’ve looked up to. He’s an idol of mine and obviously one of the greatest lefthanded pitchers to ever do it,” the 24-year-old said.

“I don’t foresee this leading into anything. You’re bound to have a bad one.”

But, Gomber added, “I didn’t give us a chance.”

Gomber had a hit off Kershaw, extending his hitting streak to three games. “It was pretty cool to get a hit off him,” said Gomber. “Just to be on the stage at this time of year, to get the ball against Clayton Kershaw in a wild-card race, with the history these two teams have. . . I didn’t take it lightly.”

But, even when they lose, the Cardinals almost always seem to have the tying run either at the plate or on the bases in the ninth inning. And seven runs in a game started by Kershaw should lead to victory.

“We feel pretty good about seven runs against a guy like Kershaw,” said Shildt. “The reality of it was that it wasn’t enough.”

But to come as close as they did, he said, “speaks volumes about how this team competes.”

Ross homered off Kershaw in the fifth. It was his second home run, both hit at Busch Stadium, with the other coming as a San Diego Padre against lefthander Tim Cooney in 2015.

The homer was the sixth by a Cardinals pitcher this year, with Miles Mikolas and John Gant having two apiece.“I knew I made solid contact,” said Ross. (Carlos Martinez has the other home run.)

This blast fueled a three-run inning, helped along by Matt Carpenter’s eighth bunt single and an error by first baseman Freese as the Cardinals climbed back to 8-4. Gyorko made a bid to cut that lead in half but his liner was speared by left fielder Taylor.

Kershaw staggered through the sixth, too, when the Cardinals had two on and one out. But Kershaw retired Carpenter on a foul pop and Yairo Munoz bounced into a force out to finish his night. Kershaw is 7-5 against the Cardinals in his career, not counting those four pesky losses the Cardinals have hung on him in the postseason.

Machado’s 417-foot homer off John Brebbia, Machado’s third hit of the night, completed the Dodgers’ scoring in the seventh.

Paul DeJong knocked in a run with a hit in the Cardinals’ seventh. But, after a single to left by Gyorko, DeJong unwisely took off for third and was thrown out by Taylor.

“I think Paulie would admit that it was a little bit of a push,” said Shildt. “Based on the score, probably not the best time. And he knows that.”

The Cardinals also loaded the bases with one out against wobbly closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth. A force out grounder and an error allowed two runs.

The Cardinals sent out two different pinch runners for Gyorko. That was one more than pitches Jansen needed to retire pinch hitter Matt Adams on a grounder to first to end the game.

“I just changed my mind,” said Shildt. “I can’t say that it was great strategy either way.”

The paid crowd of 40,997 shot the Cardinals past the three million mark (3,013,284) for the 15th consecutive season. They have nine home dates remaining and will approach 3.4 million for the season.

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Rick Hummel

@cmshhummel on Twitter

rhummel@post-dispatch.com

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