On October 3, 1951, third baseman Bobby Thomson hits a one-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the National League pennant for the New York Giants. Thomson’s homer wrapped up an amazing come-from-behind run for the Giants and knocked the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Giants’ hated inter-borough rivals, out of their spot in the World Series. The Giants went on to lose the Series to the Yankees, but Thomson’s miraculous homer remains one of the most memorable moments in sports history.
The Giants weren’t even supposed to be in the pennant race–they were 13 1/2 games behind the legendary Dodgers by the middle of August, and everyone thought they were finished. But then they won 16 games in a row. By October, they’d won 37 of their last 44 games and had tied Brooklyn for the lead. It was time for a playoff, the first ever in the National League.
New York won the first game; in the second, the Dodgers crushed them 10-0. The third game, before 34,320 people at the Polo Grounds in Washington Heights, was crucial, and by the ninth inning, it seemed like a lost cause. The Dodgers were winning 4-1. People in the stands were gathering their belongings and heading for the subway. But then the Giants came to life. Al Dark and Don Mueller hit respectable singles to right field. Then, after a Monte Irvin pop-up, Whitey Lockman doubled to left and sent Dark safely home. Now the score was 4-2, with runners on second and third.
While Bobby Thomson waited to bat, the Dodgers sent in relief pitcher Ralph Branca. Thomson was a reliable hitter, and since first base was open and the new rookie Willie Mays waited on deck, many thought that Branca would throw a deliberate walk. He didn’t. The first pitch was a called strike. Thomson drilled the second into the left-field stands.
“The Giants win the pennant!” radio announcer Russ Hodges howled. “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” He kept screaming until he lost his voice. Meanwhile, inside the Polo Grounds, pandemonium reigned. Fans flooded the field. Thomson took curtain call after curtain call. People in Manhattan and Brooklyn made so many phone calls in the half-hour after Thomson’s homer that New York Telephone nearly lost service in the two boroughs.
The next day, the momentum continued: The Giants beat the Yankees 5-1 in the first game of the World Series. Then the Yanks came back, winning the next three games and the series. In 1954 the underdog Giants swept the World Series in four straight games, thanks in part to Willie Mays’ stupendous first-game over-the-shoulder catch in center field. But by the end of the 1950s, both the Giants and the Dodgers had moved to California, and an incredible era in New York baseball history was over.