Note: We are talking baseball.
It’s October 3, 1951. It’s a game between the Dodgers and the New York Giants. We’re in Game 3 of a 3 game playoff. Bobby Thompson comes up to the plate. It’s a 0-1 count. Bobby Thompson swings, and well, you know what will happen next. But the part this makes this play special didn’t happen before the play, but rather after it.
It’s 1950. The Giants have just come off of an 86 win season, but that was a huge improvement over the disaster that 1949 was. The Giants finished just 73-81, and Bobby Thompson was the biggest contributor that year (.309 AVG, played in all 156 games).
Now let’s go back to 1951. Bobby Thompson hit .293 with 32 home runs, and he was an established power hitter. Willie Mays was good that year, and he hit .274 with 20 home runs. Al Dark and Monte Irvin were good AVG wise, and they hit .303 and .312 respectively. The pitching is dominant. Sal Maglie went 23-6 with a 2.93 ERA, and Larry Jansen went 23-11 with a 3.04 ERA.
But for awhile, none of this mattered. The Giants had gotten off to a 2-12 start, which is not the type of start that a team would like. At the All-Star break, they were 43-35, but the question remains: how did they get up so fast? They went on long, streaky runs, resulting in 8 wins at a time. By now, they are 2nd in the NL. But there is one problem. And it’s the Dodgers.
At the break, the Dodgers were up by 7.0 games. And that would be a tough journey to overcome. The odds for the Giants got much, much worse when the Dodgers broke out on a 10 game win streak. At the end of the streak, the Dodgers were up 9.5 games in very early August, and that deficit looked insurmountable. The Dodgers had another streak of 6 games going to August 14, and by that point the lead was 13.0 games. And then it happened. The Dodgers turned in to a .500 team. Let’s go to September 5. The Dodgers get crushed by the Giants in 2 straight games, and the lead is now 5 games. Now let’s go to September 23. There are 8 games left in the regular season. The lead is 3 games. Now it’s about making the World Series, not winning it. Now it’s September 27. The Dodgers are a half game up from the Giants. A loss to the Braves, and we’re tied.
The Braves are sitting at 76-76, and this looks like a winnable game. But we’re tied going into the Bottom of the 8th. And then it happened. Bob Addis scored, making it 4-3. No more runs would come out of that inning, but it would create a lead that would later become final. Pee Wee Reese steps up to the plate. He doubled to left field, and then Jackie Robinson grounded out, advancing Reese to 3rd. All the Dodgers need is a sac fly, and it’s a tie game. But it wasn’t to be. Wayne Terwilliger grounded out to 3rd. Reese had to stay at 3rd. And when Andy Pafko struck out, everybody thought that the Dodgers would miss the playoffs, but they didn’t. But how?
It’s September 30th. The Dodgers are playing the A’s, and the Giants are playing the Braves. They are tied for the lead of the NL. Both teams won, and they were set to play a 3 game series to decide who would play the Indians in the World Series.
The Giants took the first game 3-1, and the Dodgers took the second 10-0. It came down to a Game 3. The Dodgers got out to a 1-0 lead against Giants pitcher Sal Maglie on a Robinson single, and with CF Duke Snider on 2nd with 1 out, it looked like they could do it again. But then 2 straight outs made it the end of the inning, and there wouldn’t be another score until the bottom of the 7th. That’s when Monte Irvin scored on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Thompson, but then Willie Mays grounded into a double play, which ended the inning. The Dodgers then got 3 in the top of the 8th, and it looked like they would move on to the World Series when the Giants didn’t score in the bottom of the 8th. The Dodgers went 3 straight outs, and the Giants had one last chance. Al Dark opened up the inning with a single, and Don Mueller followed with another single. Al Dark was now on 3rd base, with the tying run at the plate. That’s when Monte Irvin stepped up to the plate. He was 1-3 coming into this moment, ad he could’ve played the hero. But the Giants’s chance decreased by a ton when Irvin fouled out, and Whitney Lockman went up to the plate.
He hit a double, and Dark scored, while Mueller was on third, and Lockman was on second.
And then Bobby Thompson stepped up to the plate. Past and future will know this play. It has a strong claim to be the greatest play of all time.
We had seen two great teams going back and forth, one team trying to win the league after a season full of comebacks, and one team trying to hang on. And when Ralph Branca threw a 0-1 pitch to Bobby Thompson, it changed. Something happened then and there, and Thompson hit a walk off 3 run homer.
The Giants would go on to get swept by the Indians, but all anyone remembers is that play.