1954-National League

The 1954 pennant race in the National League went through several distinct phases.  By June 15, the league saw 17 lead changes and 15 ties.   The only team not to hold the lead was the Pittsburgh Pirates.  And they would even play a role in the race during its later stages.   The lead changes were as follows: 4/13-CIN;  4/17-CHC;  4/18-CIN;  4/19-PHI;  4/24-BRO;  4/27-CIN;  4/30-BRO;  5/1-CIN;  5/2-PHI;  5/7-BRO;  5/12-PHI;  5/19-STL;  5/23-BRO;  5/24-MIL;  6/2-BRO;  6/15-NYG.  As late as June 2, there were 4 teams within 1 1/2 games of 1st place: Brooklyn 25-19 (—); Milwaukee 20-14 (1); Philadelphia 23-19 (1.5); and New York 23-19 (1.5).  Only one of these 4 teams would not have a role in the race through most of the rest of the season.

After June 15, things would not be as choatic.   At this point, the 1st Division was as follows:  NYG 35-21 (—);  BRO 34-22 (1);  MIL 29-24 (4.5);  PHI 28-25 (5.5).    From June 16 to July 2, when the Giants (now 49-23) went on a 14-2 run, the Dodgers (44-28) fell to 5 games behind.  Milwaukee who had fallen to 1 game over .500 at 36-35, were now in 4th place 12.5 games back.  By July 21, things were even worse.  New York was 62-30 (—);  Brooklyn 55-37 (7); and Milwaukee 46-45 (15.5)

Crucial to this Dodger change in fortune was the crushing results of their home and home series with the Giants at the Polo Grounds from June 29-July 1; and at Ebbets Field from July 6-July 8.  Arriving at the Polo Grounds 1 game back, Brooklyn proceeded to lose all three games 4-2, 5-2, and 5-2.  They left 4 games back.  Home cooking didn’t help, as the Giants won the next three games 5-2;  and adding insult to injury, 10-2 and 11-2.  New York had defeated 3 of Brooklyn’s 4 starters (Erskine, Roe, and Newcombe); and one of them twice (Erskine).  The relievers fared no better as New York beat two of them (Loes and Palica).  Before the 6 games the Giants were 1 game ahead of the Dodgers.  By the time they left Brooklyn, they had an advantage of 6 1/2 games.

On July 21, New York’s lead was still a formidable 7 games over Brooklyn.  Then, for the next week and a half,  Brooklyn and New York alternated playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  First the Dodgers beating Cincinnati (1 time), St. Louis (2), the Giants (1), and Chicago (2), went 6-1; while the Giants went 1-6.  Then they gave most of it back, losing to Chicago and more importantly 3 out of 4 vs. Milwaukee.   While New York went 4-1,  Brooklyn had gone 1-4.  On Aug. 2,  Brooklyn was 5 games back.  Meanwhile, Milwaukee who had been 15 games back on July 15, after going 13-4, were in 3rd place 10 games behind.

Here, a new phase of the season began, giving Dodger fans hope that this could indeed be their year.  From August 3 to August 11 Brooklyn would win 5 games while losing 3.  During that same period New York went 3-4, with 3 of those loses coming at the hands of Milwaukee.  The Braves came into the Polo Grounds and proceeded to sweep the Giants in front of their faithfuls: 6-5, 4-2, and 5-2.  Gene Conley beat Johnny Antonelli;  Lou Burdette, Ruben Gomez; and Warren Spahn bested Sal Maglie. Now 3 1/2 games back, the Dodgers were ready to host the Giants in a 3-game series at Ebbets Field.

Giant manager Leo Durocher started Sal Maglie; and Walter Alston countered with 14-game winner Carl Erskine.  The Dodgers drew 1st blood in the 6th, when singles by Erskine and Junior Gilliam set up a sacrific fly by Pee Wee Reese.  The Giants temporarily went ahead in the 7th on a double by Don Mueller, a single by Willie May, and another double by Monte Irvin.  Brooklyn put the game away for good in their half of the inning, when Gil Hodges singled and Carl Furillo hit a home run.  1st game: BRO 3 NYG 2.

In the 2nd game it looked like the Giants were going to take back their game in the standings.  In the 1st 5 innings they scored 5 runs off  starter Russ Meyer and reliever Clem Labine.  But Brooklyn scored 4 runs off of New York starter Ruben Gomez in the 6th, on another HR by Furillo, this time a grand slammer; and two runs off of loser Windy McCall  in the 7th on Roy Campanella 2-RBI single.  The winning pitcher for Brooklyn was Jim Hughes.  2nd game:  BRO 6 NYG 5.

The last game of the series was the easiest for the Dodgers, as they scored 3 in the 2nd, 1 in the 3rd, and 4 in the 5th off starter Jim Hearn and relievers Al Corwin, Marv Grissom, and Paul Giel.  For Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson had two doubles and two RBIs.  Duke Snider had a HR and two RBIs.  Bill Loes was the starter and winner.  3rd game:  BRO 9 NYG 4.

Brooklyn had gone into the series trailing New York by 3 1/2 games, but with their sweep they were only 1/2 games behind.    Meanwhile, Milwaukee at 66-47 was still in 3rd place, only 3 1/2 games back.  Would they play a significant role during the remainder of the season?  The 1/2 game behind was the closest the Dodgers had been to the Giants since New York had taken 1st place.  Would they finally be able to surpass them?  The next two weeks would put New York and Brooklyn on a see-saw.

First,  New York swept 2 3-game series at home from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, while Brooklyn went 3-4 against these same teams.  On Aug 22, New York’s lead over Brooklyn was back to 4 games.   Milwaukee was 2-4 during this week and were now 7 1/2  back.  From Aug. 23-Aug. 29  Brooklyn won 2 games each at Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee.  New York was 4-3 at Chicago, Milwaukee, and St.Louis.  The Dodgers had cut the lead back to 1 1/2 games.  Milwaukee, who had gone 6-7,  was no longer in contention, still 7 1/2 back.   The 1954 National League season was about to enter it’s final phase.

Over the next two weeks,  New York would play consistently good ball, going 10-6.  Most significantly, they beat Brooklyn at the Polo Grounds 2 game to 1. During the same time, Brooklyn experienced unwelcome inconsistency.  They would first go 2-8, losing the series to New York and a Labor Day doubleheader to last-place Pittsburgh.  Then they won 7 in a row verses St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Cincinnati.  Time was running out and the Dodgers were losing ground.  On Sept. 15, they were still in reach of 1st, 3 games behind.  But then while New York was finishes up its 3-game sweep of Milwaukee and splitting two games with Philadlephia, the Dodgers put another nail in their own coffin.

Brooklyn lost the last game of its series with Cincinnati, 9-3 and travelled to Pittsburgh for 2 games.  Pittsburgh in true spoiler fashion won both games, 9-1 and 1-0.  In the 2nd game Bob Friend pitched a 6-hit shutout.  In a crucial part of the pennant race, the lowly Pirates had shown that all teams are participants in pennant races by going 4-0 against the Dodgers.  On Sept 19, the Brooklyn Dodgers were 5 1/2 games in back of their archrival Giants.  But the season was not over yet, as Brooklyn was about to play New York in another 3-game series at Ebbets Field.  A sweep by the Dodgers might give them new life.

However, the hole  Brooklyn  dug for itself was too large; and they were up against an obviously superior opponent.  In the 1st game, the Giants scored all the runs they would need in the 1st inning on a walk to Whitey Lockman, and singles by Al Dark,  Willie Mays, and Hank Thompson.  The final score was NYG 9 BRO 1.  Sal Maglie was the winning pitcher and Carl Erskine the loser.  New York had clinched the pennant on the last Monday of the season.

When trying to figure out the factors in the 1954 NL pennant race, we see that New York played well against their two main rivals.  Their record in their season series with Brooklyn was 13-9.  Against Milwaukee they were 12-10.   Their hitters and pitchers included the two best players in the league.  Hitting was led by NL MVP Willie Mays, who batted .345 with 41 HR and 110 RBI.    The pitching staff was anchored by Johnny Antonelli (21-7/2.30 ERA).  Antonelli finished 3rd in the NL MVP balloting.  Other Giant stars were Hank Thompson and Al Dark (26 and 20 HRs); and starter Ruben Gomez (19-9/2.88) and reliever Hoyt Wilhelm (12-4/2.10). 

 The New York Giants would go on to beat the heavily favored Cleveland Indians, 4-0 in the 1954 World Series.  Anybody who experienced the battle-tested Giants performance during the 1954 National League pennant race should not have been surprised with the Series’ results.

Resources:  http://baseballrace.com; http://baseball-reference.com

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