Baseball’s ‘Shot Heard ’Round the World’
It is a cliché to say that a ballclub is a “team of destiny,” but if anyone deserves that title it would be manager Leo Durocher’s 1951 New York Giants baseball team. That’s the club that won the National League pennant in the last inning of the last playoff game on Bobby Thomson’s three-run homer on Oct. 3, 1951, the famous “Shot Heard ’Round the World.” As dramatic as it was, however, Thomson’s heart-stopping home run was simply the climax of a long string of miraculous events for the Giants and their fans that season.
The New York Giants were a long-suffering franchise when the 1951 season began. For many years a powerhouse in the National League (the Giants’ 15 pennants were second only to the Chicago Cubs’ 16), the Giants had fallen on hard times. They had not won the pennant—the league championship—since 1937, and with the powerful Jackie Robinson-led Brooklyn Dodgers on the scene it did not look like 1951 would end the Giants’ pennant drought, even though in May of that year the Giants brought up a scintillating 20-year-old rookie named Willie Mays.
As expected, the Dodgers were a great time in 1951, and on August 11 the forlorn Giants trailed their first-place rivals by a seemingly-insurmountable deficit of 13½ games.
Then the miracles started happening for the Giants and their fans.
Astonishingly, the Giants reeled off 16 straight victories to begin their charge, and never let up. They won 37 of the season’s final 44 games, but even this incredible level of play almost wasn’t enough to catch the Dodgers. On the last day of the season they desperately needed a win, but faced the Philadelphia Phillies, the reigning pennant winners. It was a tense game, but the Giants finally prevailed in the 14th inning to tie the Dodgers atop the standings with identical 96-58 records. That brought on a special best-of-three-games playoff, with the winner earning a place in the World Series against New York’s third Major League baseball team, the American League’s New York Yankees.
The first playoff game was in the Dodgers’ ballpark, Ebbets Field. The sun shone brightly and the Giants won 3-1, thanks to Bobby Thomson hitting a two-run homer off the Dodgers’ pitcher Ralph Branca—a hint of things to come.
The next game was at the Giants’ ballpark, the Polo Grounds. The Giants fans’ misery matched the foul, wet weather as the Dodgers thrashed the home team 10-0 to tie the playoff and set up the climactic third and final game, also at the Polo Grounds.
And what a game it was! Two of the game’s preeminent pitchers, the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe and the Giants’ Sal Maglie, squared off against each other in a taut pitcher’s duel. After seven innings under gray, threatening skies the game was knotted up 1-1. Then in the eighth the Dodgers pushed across three runs to take a commanding 4-1 lead, and when Newcombe held the Giants scoreless in the bottom of the eighth it looked like the Dodgers were World-Series bound.
But the Giants had one more miracle left in this incredible season. Before the first batter stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, manager Leo Durocher said to his players (as he later told a reporter): “I told the boys we had three big outs left. You haven’t given up all year so don’t give up now. Let’s get some runs. And the reply, almost in a chorus, was, ‘we’ll get the bums.’”
The Dodgers’ ace Don Newcombe was still on the mound, but pitching on only two days’ rest—and he was tired. The first two Giants batters singled, putting runners on first and third. But then the third batter harmlessly popped out, and the Giants’ hopes were flickering. The next batter doubled, driving in a run to make the score 4-2. Dodgers’ manager Charlie Dressen then pulled Newcombe and made the controversial decision to replace him with Ralph Branca—even though the next batter was Bobby Thomson, who had homered off Branca in Game 1.
Branca fired a fastball past Thomson for strike one.
Then it happened. The overcast skies lightened and the sun broke through. Branca threw a second fastball, but he did not get this one past Thomson. Instead, the Giants’ slugger hit his 32nd homer into the left-field stands, a dramatic, three-run bottom of the ninth home run to win the pennant, a shot forever immortalized as the “Shot Heard ’Round the World.”
Thomson was mobbed at the plate by his jubilant teammates while frenzied fans poured onto the field. The Giants, given up for dead just weeks before, had won the National League pennant with one of the greatest comebacks and most exciting finishes in sports history. Though they would go on to lose the World Series to the Yankees in six games, that almost seemed inconsequential—nothing could diminish the excitement and satisfaction of the Giants’ 16th National League pennant.
This copyrighted account of the game and Thomson’s dramatic home run was published by the Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts) on the front page of its Oct. 4, 1951, issue:
Giants Top Dodgers and Win Flag on Thomson’s Homer, 5-4
Three-Run Blast in Ninth Climaxes New York Surge
Dramatic Wallop off Branca Brings Giants First Pennant since 1937; Brooklyn Loses Three-Run Lead
By Dutch Robbins
Polo Grounds, New York, Oct. 3—Everybody said it couldn’t be done but the New York Giants did it. They said it all during the month of August and they said it again today after 8½ innings of play here at the Polo Grounds before a crowd of 34,320. Then in the most dramatic finish that baseball will ever know, Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate and hit a three-run homer that made the rags-to-riches Giants the National League champions of 1951. Thomson’s smash, which will go down in history as one of the greatest clutch wallops of its kind, gave the Cinderella Kids of Manager Leo Durocher a 5-4 victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the deciding game of the three-game series to decide the National League flag and it sent them skyrocketing into the World Series against the New York Yankees.
Refuse to Give Up
The Giants have let nothing become a hopeless cause this season. They refused to let their plight going into the last of the ninth inning become one today. They were a seemingly beaten team moving in for their last and final great bid to complete the national pastime’s comeback of all times. The Dodgers were leading 4-1 and only three Giants stood between them and what they had fought their hearts out for. Don Newcombe, Brooklyn’s big Negro mound ace, had things well in hand. Al Dark walked up to the plate. He hit one toward the hole between first and second. Gil Hodges raced over from first and knocked the ball down but it rolled away and Dark was on with an infield single. Don Mueller walked up to the plate and slashed one of Newcombe’s pitches right through first base for a clean single that sent Dark racing to third. The Giants were threatening but Monte Irvin fouled out to first base. Two outs to go for Newcombe and the Dodgers. Whitey Lockman took his place in the batter’s box. Newcombe gave him the pitch he liked and he belted it into left for a double. Dark hustled home and Mueller went sliding into third.
It was a costly slide for Mueller for he twisted his left ankle and had to be carried from the field on a stretcher. Clint Hartung took his place as a base-runner. Now the tieing runs for the Giants were on second and third. Newcombe was on the ropes and Manager Charley Dressen called in Ralph Branca to try to save the day.
Thomson was to be Branca’s first victim but instead the Brooklyn hurler became the victim. Branca’s first pitch got by Thomson for a strike but not his next one. Thomson swung. The ball went soaring toward the left-field stands. The huge throng rose to its feet breathlessly and then up went the greatest roar the Polo Grounds has ever heard as the ball dropped into the lower deck of the stands.
The place became a madhouse as first Hartung crossed the plate, Lockman crossed the plate and last and greatest of them all, Thomson crossed the plate to be literally murdered by everyone even slightly interested in the Giants.
Thomson’s 32nd home run of the season became the period that ended the most fantastic comeback story written by any ball club, the story of the Giants coming from 13½ games off the pace on Aug. 11 to beat out the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League pennant. It also wrote a finish to the most breathtaking windup the National League has ever known.
A lot happened today, however, before Thomson smote his mighty wallop. This was as important a game as either one of the clubs will ever play and they made it just that. Great pitching and great fielding kept the suspense mounting right down to the very end.
Sal Maglie for the Giants and Newcombe for the Dodgers, two of the league’s very best, were to duel it out on the mound and it was a tingling pitchers’ battle for seven full innings.
Maglie, a control pitcher, found his control not what he wanted it to be in the first inning and the Dodgers were quick to take advantage. After he sneaked a third strike by Carl Furillo with the count three and two, Maglie walked Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider.
Jackie Robinson, continuing to play his standout role in an effort to bring the Dodgers home in front, belted a first pitch for a single to left that scored Reese and sent Snider to second. He was a very fortunate pitcher after that as Andy Pafko forced Snider at third with a grounder and Gil Hodges flied out.
But what a big run that looked like for Newcombe as the big right-hander went on inning after inning turning back every Giant attempt to tie it up. Despite the fact that he was working with only two days’ rest, Newcombe started to appear unbeatable.
It was this way until the last of the seventh when Monte Irvin, as leadoff man, blasted a double off the left-field wall. The biggest chance of all had arrived for the Giants. Lockman dropped a bunt in front of the plate to get Irvin down to third where he might score on any ball hit out of the infield. Catcher Al Walker fielded the bunt and tried to get Irvin at third but the Giant left fielder was too fleet of foot. As a result the Giants wound up with men on first and third.
Up came Thomson and he played what was to be his first role of hero for the day by sending a long fly to center field which enabled Irvin to prance home with the equalizer after the catch. And it’s a good thing he did for Newcombe forced Willie Mays to hit into a double play to end the inning.
The Dodgers, still trying to make good their own comeback after just about blowing their pennant chances during the windup of the regular season and in the opening game of the playoff series, became a championship team once again in the first of the eighth by rallying for three runs, runs which they expected would doom the Giants once and for all.
Let’s Go Wild Pitch
After Carl Furillo lined back to Maglie, Reese got to the Giant mound ace, seeking his 24th victory, for a single. Maglie was tiring. Snider proved this by belting another single to right which drove Reese to third. Maglie offered more proof that he was on the way out by uncorking a wild pitch that permitted Reese to score from third with the tie-breaking run and Snider to hot-foot it to third. The game was breaking wide open for the Dodgers. With a three and one count on Robinson, Maglie threw him an intentional fourth ball. Pafko added to his woes by delivering a single down the third-base line which brought home Snider and sent Robinson to second. Hodges obliged by popping out to third, but Billy Cox came through with a single to plate Robinson. The Dodgers let it go at that, confident that Newcombe could do the rest out on the mound.
Newcombe did it in the eighth by retiring two Giant pinch-hitters in a row and then Ed Stanky. The ninth was a different story. It was the inning in which the Giants and Thomson were to unfold the National League pennant for themselves and send the Dodgers back to Brooklyn wondering if they were ever in the National League.
This they did to give New York its 16th National League pennant, the last, before today, being furnished by Bill Terry’s Giants of 1937. For Manager Leo Durocher it was a return to NL pennant fame. His only other one was in 1941. It was with Brooklyn.
And when everything finally returned to normal at the Polo Grounds and the effects of Thomson’s winning homer had worn off, you suddenly remembered that Maglie was not the winning pitcher. That it was Larry Jansen who pitched the last inning for him and retired the Dodgers in one, two, three order for his 22d victory. And that Newcombe wasn’t the losing pitcher but it was Branca who threw the pitch to Thomson that paid off in a pennant for the Giants.
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