Shirley Povich wrote about sports for The Washington Post for 75 years, until the day he died at 92 -- June 4, 1998. With the 20th century drawing to a close, a review of Povich's columns and stories from the past seven decades provides a picture of the people and events that dominated the century of sports in America. With great pleasure, we'll present some of his writings, continuing today with one that appeared Oct. 4, 1951, telling the story of Bobby Thomson's dramatic home run that put the New York Giants into the World Series.
And so it came down to the absolute last pitch of the 157-game season before it was decided that the Giants, not the Dodgers, would be in the World Series against the Yankees.
Hollywood's most imaginative writers on an opium jag could not have scripted a more improbable windup of the season that started in April and had its finish today in the triumph of Bobby Thomson and the Giants.
Into that last blur of white that came plateward out of the pitching fist of Brooklyn's Ralph Branca was compressed the destiny of the two clubs that had battled for six months to get today's decision. Before Thomson swung, it was the Dodgers winning the pennant. A split-second later the Dodgers were dead and the Giants had it.
Branca was pitching to the goat of the final play-off game. Early in the contest, Thomson messed up a promising rally for the Giants with a stupid bit of heads-down base running that perhaps cost the Giants a vital run, maybe more in the game that was a 1-1 stalemate going into the eighth.
But at the finish it was Thomson the hero who struck the blow that got the Giants into the World Series. At a time when his pals were praying for a single that would tie the score at 4-4, Tommy wound it up with a home run that brought the Giants all the marbles.
The World Series that opens tomorrow has to be anti-climactic to today's struggle. It's probably the only World Series ever to get a second billing on World Series eve to a mere pennant-clinching game. This one today had too many situations and the folks too tensed-up. All day the Dodgers were looking like the team of destiny in their battle to beat Sal Maglie, who had licked 'em five times this season.
But today they had Maglie licked with that three-run outburst in the eighth that gave them a 4-1 lead, and back of big Don Newcombe the Dodgers were a sensational fielding lot. Billy Cox and Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges were denying the Giants the baselines with their fancy stuff in the infield, and the Newcombe was breezing to the big win that would get the Dodgers into the Series.
The dark day was making Newcombe's fastball look faster, and he had a four-hitter going into the ninth, and who would speculate that he wouldn't last the inning out? But these Giants who wouldn't take No for an answer when they were 13 1/2 games behind in August, were not surrendering merely for the need of three runs in the ninth. Alvin Dark's single, Don Mueller's single, Whitey Lockman's double, and Newcombe no longer was in there.
When they called for Branca to come out of the bullpen in distant right field, he had no suspicion he was walking into what was to be the sorriest mess of his career. Two pitches later, Branca was the losing pitcher. Next week he marries the boss's daughter, whose pappy is half-owner of the Brooklyn club. The echo of that blast of Thomson's is apt to accompany the honeymooners.
All day Leo Durocher and his hated opposite number, Charley Dressen, were glaring at each other out of the dugouts and on the coaching lines, and it was Durocher who achieved the first advantage with a neat bit of strategy in the sixth inning. That was when the score was tied at 1-1 with Snider on first, one out, and the dangerous Jackie Robinson up. With the count two balls and no strikes on Robinson, Durocher dared to signal a pitchout by Maglie and he was guessing right. Dressen was sending Snider down, and he was out at second by 20 feet.
The Yankees, all of them, were sitting in the stands today, waiting to learn whom they would have to play in the World Series beginning tomorrow, and they have to like the Giants better after this one. They were watching a team that could muster a Yankee-type finish just when their blazing stretch rush threatened to fall short of the ultimate goal of the pennant.
The Yanks could see that only the super fielding of Cox and Reese and Hodges were keeping the Giants off base in those early and middle innings, and that here was a club that would require a lot of beating. It was a team, too, that was bouncing back after the previous day's humiliating 10-0 defeat and was unpanicked even by that three-run lead Newcombe held going into the ninth.
Before the game, Manager Casey Stengel cozily refused to declare which club he would rather battle in the World Series, but he did hint that he wouldn't mind playing the Dodgers. "I'd rather play a team with a one-legged catcher," he said, referring to Roy Campanella's serious injury. He isn't going to get his wish, which could be worse luck.