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On This Date in Sports October 3, 1951: The Shot Heard Round the World

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New York Giants win the pennant as Bobby Thompson hits the shot heard around the world, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-4 in a playoff for the National League Championship. Called "The Shot Heard Round the World," it is the most famous home run in the history of baseball. The Giants rallied from down 13 games and needed a three-game series to decide the pennant with the archrival Dodgers. Down 4-1 in the ninth, the Giants rally to win the game as Thompson hit a pennant-winning three-run home run off Ralph Branca. The Giants would lose to the New York Yankees in six games in the World Series. 

The 1950s was the golden age of New York baseball; the Yankees were playing in nine World Series in a ten-year stretch while the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants battled for superiority in the National League. The Dodgers had become the powerhouse in the senior circuit, reaching the World Series in 1947 and 1949; after falling two games short in 1950, the Dodgers fired manager Burt Shotten and GM Branch Rickey. Chuck Dressen took over in the dugout, while Buzzie Bavasi became the new General Manager. 

The New York Giants had some lean years in the 1940s, as they had not won a pennant since 1937. The arrival of Willie Mays began to change things for the team that played in Northern Manhattan. Mays would struggle early as the Dodgers built a big lead in the National League. The Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 games on August 11th, as Brooklyn appeared to be heading for another Subway Series against the Yankees. However, with Willie Mays winning Rookie of the Year, the Giants caught fire, posting a record of 47-7 over their final 54 games to catch the Dodgers on the last weekend of the season. After 154 games, nothing was settled as both teams had identical 96-58 records. Of course, years later, it was revealed that the Giants began stealing signs with an elaborate set of signals from the centerfield clubhouse at the Polo Grounds. The signal system was the brainchild of manager Leo Durocher who had once been the skipper of the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

While the American League had a one-game tiebreaker, the National League utilized a three-game playoff. The first tiebreaker was in 1946, with the Cardinals winning two straight against the Dodgers. This tiebreaker took on extra weight as the Dodgers and Giants had baseball's fiercest rivalry. The Giants won the opener at Ebbets Field, 3-1. The Dodgers scored first on a home run by Andy Pafko in the second inning. The Giants took the lead in the fourth inning as Bobby Thompson hit a two-run bomb off Ralph Branca. Monte Irvin added a home run in the eight, as Jim Hearn got the win. 

Game 2 at the Polo Grounds was all Brooklyn, as the Dodgers won 10-0. Clem Labine spread six hits over nine innings as the Dodgers jumped all over Sheldon Jones. The onslaught started with a two-run homer by Jackie Robinson in the first inning. Robinson added an RBI single in the fifth. The Dodgers added three runs in the sixth, with Gil Hodges homering and Duke Snider driving in a run. Rube Walker added a two-run shot in the seventh as Pafko had his second home run of the series as Brooklyn evened the tiebreaker playoff. 

Don Newcombe got the start for Brooklyn, while Sal Maglie was on the mound for the Giants. The Dodgers struck first as Jackie Robinson drove in Pee-Wee Reese in the first inning. Newcombe kept the Giants at bay for six innings before Monte Irvin had a leadoff double and scored on a sac-fly by Bobby Thompson. In the eighth inning, Sal Magline ran out of gas, as Reese scored on a wild pitch to give Brooklyn a 2-1 lead. The Dodgers added two more runs on hits by Andy Pafko and Billy Cox. Newcombe set down the Giants in order in the bottom of the eighth as the Dodgers held a 4-1 lead heading to the ninth. 

Larry Jansen set down the Dodgers in order, as the Giants had a three-run deficit to overcome as they took their final turn at-bat. Alvin Dark and Don Muller led off with singles to bring the tying run to the plate for New York. Monte Irvin popped out to Gil Hodges at first, as Don Newcombe tried to finish the game and pitch the Dodgers to the World Series. Whitey Lockman laced a double to left to make it 4-2, as the Giants had the tying runs in scoring position. Manager Chuck Dressen sensing Newcombe being taxed, decided to call for the pen and brought in Ralph Branca. On an 0-1 pitch, Bobby Thompson ended the game in the most dramatic way possible with a  three-run home run to  win the game, and the pennant as Russ Hodges provided one of baseball's most famous calls shouting "The Giants Win the Pennant."

The Giants would lose the World Series in six games, as the Yankees won the third of five consecutive World Series championships.