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Thomson homer capped epic pennant race
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Forsyth County News
“One out, last of the ninth, Branca pitches. Bobby Thomson takes a strike call on the inside corner. Bobby hitting at .292. He’s had a single and a double and he drove in the Giants’ first run with a long fly to center. Brooklyn leads it, 4-2. Hartung down the line at third, not taking any chances. Lockman without too big of a lead at second, but he’ll be running like the wind if Thomson hits one.

“Branca throws. There’s a long drive ... it’s gonna be, I believe ... The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left field stands! The Giants win the pennant! And they’re goin’ crazy! They’re goin’ crazy! Ohhh, hooo! The Giants won it by a score of 5-4, and they’re picking Bobby Thomson up and carrying him off the field!”

Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ’Round the World,” perhaps the most famous moment in baseball history, which spawned that immortal call by announcer Russ Hodges, popped back into our consciousness last week.

Sadly, Thomson, the Staten Island Scot, died last Monday at his home in Savannah. He was 86, and had been in poor health for some time.

But on Oct. 3, 1951, Thomson capped one of the greatest pennant races of all time with his dramatic home run. It ended the final game of a three game playoff for the National League pennant.

On Aug. 11, the Giants had fallen 13 games behind the Dodgers, prompting Dodger manager Charlie Dressen to issue his famous proclamation, “The Giants is dead.”

Not quite. Leo Durocher managed the Giants to 37 wins in their last 44 games. They finally caught the Dodgers on the season’s last weekend.

The playoff, the first in National League history, began at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The Giants won 3-1 as Thomson hit a 2-run homer off of Dodger starter Ralph Branca.

The Dodgers won the second game 10-0 at the Polo Grounds to set up the decisive third game. Both teams now had their aces ready: Sal Maglie for the Giants, Don Newcombe for the Dodgers.

Thomson played a prominent role throughout the game. In the second inning, he hit a long drive down the left field line, and wound up on second base along with teammate Whitey Lockman. That ended the inning.

He doubled in the fifth with the bases clear, but was stranded at second as Willie Mays struck out and Maglie grounded out. In the seventh, his long fly to center scored Monte Irvin to tie the game, 1-1.

Thomson found himself in the middle of the Dodgers’ three-run rally in the eighth. After singles by Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider, and an intentional walk to Jackie Robinson, Andy Pafko singled off Thomson’s glove at third. Then Billy Cox singled just past Thomson for the final run.

Thomson, an outfielder, had moved to third in June to open up center field for the rookie Mays. “Leo wanted him to move to third base,” Mays told Richard Goldstein of the New York Times. “He didn’t have a problem with that. That’s class.”

Thomson was no slouch at third. On Sept. 9 at Ebbets Field, he made a play Durocher called “the greatest play that I’ve ever seen a third baseman make” according to Dave Anderson of the New York Times. The Giants were leading 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth. Robinson had a big lead off third. Pafko hit a shot to Thomson, who tagged Robinson and threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play. That preserved the Giants win, and moved them within five games of the Dodgers.

Now, with the pennant on the line and the Giants down by three, Al Dark and Don Mueller led off with singles. Irvin popped out, but Lockman doubled to left, scoring Dark. Mueller broke his ankle sliding into third, and during the delay, Driessen decided to replace the tiring Newcombe with Branca.

“I kept telling myself, ‘Wait and watch. Give yourself a chance to hit,’” Thomson told Goldstein. “I can remember feeling as if time was just frozen. It was a delirious, delicious moment.”

“Now it is done,” Red Smith wrote in the New York Herald Tribune. “Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead.
Reality strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

John Drebinger of the New York Times was equally amazed: “In an electrifying finish to what long will be remembered as the most thrilling pennant campaign in history, Leo Durocher and his astounding never-say-die Giants wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat at the Polo Grounds yesterday.”

Thomson had a nice big league career, playing 15 years (’46-’60), hitting .270 with 264 home runs. He led the league once, in triples (14) in 1952. He hit at least 20 homers every year from ’47-’53, and four times knocked in over 100 runs.

After being traded by the Giants to the Braves in 1954, he broke his ankle in spring training. That opened a roster spot for one Henry Louis Aaron.

But it’s highly doubtful that we’d remember Thomson today without The Shot. As Bud Selig said last week, “Bobby Thomson will always hold a special place in our game for hitting one of the signature home runs in baseball history. The Shot Heard ’Round the World will always remain a defining moment for our game, illustrating the timeless quality of our national pastime.”

But by all accounts, Thomson always downplayed The Shot. “It was just a home run,” he’d tell Anderson. “I can’t believe we’re still talking about it.”