The beginning of the 1951 National League season was a foreshadowing of how it would end. On April 29 Brooklyn was in a virtual tie for 1st place at 8-4; and the New York Giants after starting the season at 2-12 were 7 games behind them. When New York proceeded to win 12 of the next 19, they were in 5th place 3.5 games off the pace. Things would get considerablely worse before they got better for the Giants.
At 14-10 Brooklyn took over possession of 1st on May 13. They would hold on to this position for nearly the rest of the season. On May 31 the standings were as follows: Brooklyn 24-16 (-); St. Louis 22-17 (2); Chicago 19-17 (3.5); Boston 21-19 (3.5). New York at 21-21 were in 5th place, 4.5 games back. By June 12, St. Louis had gone 4-8 and was in 4th; Chicago 3-8 in 7th; and Boston 5-7 in 5th. New York was 7-5 during the two weeks and was now in 2nd 6 games behind Brooklyn who had gone 8-2. The Giants from here on in would be various amount of games behind the Dodgers. The rest of the league, except as opponents of Brooklyn and New York, became irrelevant in this pennant race.
By August 11 Brooklyn at 70-36 was 13 games ahead of New York, who had a 59-51 record. From April til August 9 Brooklyn and NewYork had played 15 games with the Dodgers winning 12 and the Giants 3. On August 12 while playing Philadelphia in a Sunday doubleheader at the Polo Grounds, New York won the 1st 2 of 16 straight games. Whitey Lockman lead the team with 12 RBIs; and Monty Irvin and Wes Westrum had 10 each. Al Corwin and George Spenser each won 3 games. On August 14 -16 at the Polo Grounds the Giants began to change their fortunes against the Dodgers by sweeping them 4-2; 3-1; and 2-1. By the last day of the streak, after beating Chicago 5-4 and 6-3, New York had taken a whopping 8 games of of Brooklyn’s lead and were 5 games back.
For the next three weeks, despite the Giants winning 3 out of 4 games played between the two teams, the Dodgers maintained at least a 5 game lead. New York then went on a 9-1 tear vs. Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Boston, and Philadelphia. When Brooklyn lost to Philadelphia at Shibe Park on Sept 28 4-3, the Giants entered the last weekend of the season tied for 1st place with the Dodgers. Both teams were on the road, with New York at Boston and Brooklyn at Philadelphia. Both contenders won on Saturday, the
Giants 3-0 and the Dodgers 5-o, thus leaving the determination of the pennant race to the last day of the season.
Twenty game winner Larry Jansen started for New York; Jim Wilson for Boston. The Braves drew first blood scoring a run in the 1st. The Giants answered back with a run of their own in the 2nd; then 2 more in the 3rd and 5th. The score remained 3-1 until the bottom of the 9th when Boston attempted a comeback. Bob Addis doubled. Sam Jethroe singled him to third. Earl Torgeson’s force out scored Addis. Sid Gordon’s ground ball forced out Torgeson; and Walker Cooper’s single put Braves on 1st and 2nd. But Jansen induced a fly by Marshall to left and New York had won their game 3-2.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Brooklyn’s starter Preacher Roe and relievers Ralph Branca and Clyde King were ineffectual, giving up 8 runs in 4 innings pitched. Brooklyn hitters however kept the Dodgers in the game by scoring a run in the 3rd and 4th and 3 in the 5th. So after five innings the score was 8-5. It stayed this way until the Dodger’s eight. Gil Hodges and Bobby Cox started the inning off with singles. Rube Walker’s double made the score 8-7 and Carl Furillo tied it at 8 with a single. Brooklyn relievers would hold Philadelphia in check for 10 innings, the biggest threat being in the 12th when with 1 out and the bases loaded Don Newcombe struck out Del Ennis and Eddie Waitkus. Brooklyn won it 9-8 on a Jackie Robinson HR in the 14th. With 154 games completed, the Giants had staged the greatest comeback in baseball history, but it would take the biggest drama of all to complete this story.
Game 1 of the best 2 out of 3 playoff took place on Monday, October 1 at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn. New York’s manager Leo Durocher chose Jim Hearn as his starting pitcher. Brooklyn’s Chuck Dressen chose Ralph Branca. Brooklyn struck first in the bottom of the second. However in a bit more forshadowing, the Giants scored all the run they would need when in the 4th inning Monte Irvin single and Bobby Thomson hit a two run homer off Branca. Monty Irvin hit another HR in the 8th and New York lead the series 1-0 on the strength of their 3-1 victory.
The next day the series shifted to the borough of Manhattan as the Giants took home field advantage at the Polo Grounds. But this game would belong totally to the Dodgers. Starter and winner Clem Labine pitched a six hit shutout and Brooklyn was triumphant 10-0. Led by Jackie Robinson’s and Rube Walker’s 3 hits and one HR each, the Dodgers pounded loser Seldon Jones, and Brooklyn relievers, for 13 hits and 26 total bases. And all on a day when Jackie Robinson’s 1st inning 2-run HR would have been sufficient for the victory. The stage was now set for the winner take all 3rd game.
For this game played in the Polo Grounds Leo Durocher chose his 23-game winner Sal Maglie to start. Dressen countered with his 20-game winner Don Newcombe. Neither pitcher would be around by the end of the game to claim the decisions. Jackie Robinson got the Dodgers off on the right foot when his 1st inning single drove in Peewee Reese, who reached base on a walk and 2nd on a Maglie walk to Duke Snider. Both hurlers then proceeded to pitch goose eggs until the bottom of the 7th, when a combination of a Irvin double, a Lockman sacrifice bunt, and a Thomson sacrifice fly to center tied the score at 1-1. But the Giants share of the lead was short lived.
In the top of the 8th Brooklyn scored 3 runs on a wild pitch and singles by Andy Pafko and Bobby Cox. When Newcombe put the side down in order in the bottom of the 9th, and reliever Larry Jansen did the same in the top of the 9th, New York took its last turn at bat down 4-1. It looked as if their tremendous pennant run was going to fall an inning short until….
….Alvin Dark and Don Mueller started the inning off with singles, putting runners on 1st and 3rd. After Monty Irvin fouled out to 1st, Whitey Lockman hit a double scoring Dark. Mueller was injured sliding into third and was replaced by Clint Hartung. Manager Dressen went to the mound and in a questionable move replaced Newcombe with Ralph Branca. Bobby Thomson then strode to the plate. The 1st pitch was a fast ball down the middle for strike one. The next pitch was a fast ball that Branca meant to set-up his next pitch a curveball, but Thomson swung and sent a low line drive toward the left field stands. Andy Pafko playing left field was hoping the ball would sink and hit the wall but it went over it at the 315 ft. mark.
All pandimonium broke out at the Polo Grounds as Giant announcer Russ Hodges made the most famous call in baseball history over radio station WMCA-AM:
“THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the leftfield stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!
The Giant’s indeed had finished their miraculous run at the 1951 National League pennant, with an even more miraculous 5-4 victory over the Dodgers. But this was also midnight for Cinderella, as the Giants would lose the World Series 4-2 to their rival from across the Harlem River, the New York Yankees.
Resources: http://baseballrace.com; http://baseball-reference.com; http://wikipedia.org/wiki/shot_heard_’round_the_world(baseball)