Since there’s been no baseball yet, let’s look back to the era Major League teams played 154-game seasons, and the two top teams in the eight-team National League in 1951 were arch-rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
The Dodgers, managed by Charley Dressen who assumed the position after Leo Durocher was fired, won 28 of their first 36 games, while the Giants struggled to reach .500 under Durocher.
In mid-season, Dressen was quoted as saying, “The Giants is dead!” which fired up the Giants.
On Aug. 11, the Dodgers held a 13½-game lead, but the Giants swept three games from them, starting a 16-game winning streak. By mid-September, the Dodgers’ lead was 5 ½ games.
At that point, Durocher announced he’d use only his best three starting pitchers the rest of the season, “I want to win TODAY!” he said. “It might rain tomorrow.”
History recorded the Giants tied the Dodgers with one day left in the season.
The Giants had won 37 of their last 44 games, including the final seven and 12 of the last 13, to move into a best 2-of-3 playoff series with the Dodgers; the winner would face the Yankees in the World Series.
The Giants won the first game, 3-1, in Brooklyn. The series moved to the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home park, where the Dodgers claimed a 10-0 win in the second game, setting up the most famous inning in baseball history, on Wednesday, Oct. 3.
The Dodgers sent Don Newcombe, who’d pitched 14 innings the previous weekend, to the mound, seeking his 21st win against 9 losses.
Sal “The Barber” Maglie, 23-6, took the hill for New York.
A three-run outburst in the top of the eighth inning broke a tie and gave the Dodgers a 4-1 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Giants shortstop Alvin Dark drilled a single off first baseman Gil Hodges’ mitt.
Unexplainably, Hodges then held Dark on, which allowed Don Mueller’s shot to the right side to get beyond Hodges’ reach.
Columbia, Ala., native outfielder/future Hall of Famer, Monte Irvin, popped out, but Whitey Lockman doubled to left; Dark scored and Mueller slid into third, wrecking his ankle in the process.
With one out, Dressen phoned the Dodger bullpen where Ralph Branca and sinker-baller Carl Erskine were warming up.
Dressen wanted Erskine, but just as he was answering the bullpen phone, Dodger coach Clyde Sukeforth saw Erskine bounce a ball to the bullpen catcher.
Dressen called for Branca to pitch to Bobby Thomson, even though Thomson had homered off Branca two days earlier.
With runners at first and second and one out, the score 4-2 Dodgers, Branca faced Thomson, after Dressen decided not to intentionally walk Thomson to set up a force play at every base.
Branca blew a fastball strike past Thomson on the first pitch and came back with another fastball … which Thomson drilled into the left field stands for the winning run.
As Thomson rounded the bases, Durocher, coaching at third base, went berserk celebrating what’s known as the Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.
Out of the first base dugout sprinted Giants second baseman Eddie Stanky who caught and attempted to tackle Durocher to keep him from grabbing Thomson as he approached third, which would’ve negated the home run by rule then.
On the radio, by virtue of a coin toss, announcer Russ Hodges screamed, “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!” to a nation-wide audience, while Red Barber, who’d chosen to be on TV that day, talked to an audience estimated at no more than a few thousand in TV’s infancy.
On deck when Thomson hit the homer was another Alabama outfielder, Westfield’s Willie Mays, then a rookie.
Check out the new book about Mays, “24”.
The Giants carried the Yankees to six games in the World Series but lost in Joe DiMaggio’s final game.