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Thomson hits the shot heard 'round the world

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 18, 1999


Brooklyn was different then. It was not New York. The Giants were New York. The Dodgers were Brooklyn. They and the borough had an identity all their own. Every war movie, you could be sure there was a soldier or sailor nicknamed Brooklyn, to whom "dese," "dem" and "dose" were pronouns.

Brooklyn and New York played each other 22 times a season. Bragging rights? Hey, people got knifed over who was a better pitcher, Carl Erskine or Sal Maglie.

The 1951 season appeared to be over in midsummer. The Dodgers led the National League by 131/2 games on Aug. 11. The next day, the Giants started a 16-game winning streak. They wound up winning 37 of their last 44 games and tied with the Dodgers atop the league. A three-game playoff would decide the pennant winner.

The Giants won the opener 3-1 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The next game -- or two, if needed -- would be at the horseshoe-shaped Polo Grounds, where a 257-foot fly ball to rightfield, or 279 to left, was a home run.

The Dodgers won the second game 10-1, and led 4-1 in Game 3 going into the bottom of the ninth. But Dodgers starter Don Newcombe gave up singles to Alvin Dark and Don Mueller, and a one-out double to Whitey Lockman that made it 4-2. Mueller broke an ankle sliding into third and Clint Hartung ran for him.

Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen lifted Newcombe and waved Ralph Branca in from the bullpen. And, going by the book that says you never intentionally put the winning run on base, he chose to pitch to Bobby Thomson rather than walk him and pitch to rookie Willie Mays, who'd had a dismal playoff.

Branca fired a fastball past Thomson for strike one.

If you were a Giants or Dodgers fan on Oct. 3, 1951, you remember where you were at 3:57 p.m., as well as you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor.

Russ Hodges was the Giants broadcaster.

"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 it, 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 leftfield stands. The Giants win the pennant! And they're going crazy! They're going crazy! Waaa-hoooo!"

For an instant, the 34,320 spectators -- and the players -- seemed unaware of what had transpired. Then the fans began to roar, Branca's shoulders sagged, he and the rest of the Dodgers trudged toward their clubhouse, and the Giants burst out of the dugout to pummel Thompson.

"Going around those bases in the ninth inning, I just couldn't believe what was happening to me," he told United Press later that day. "It felt as if I was actually living one of those middle-of-the-night dreams. You know, everything was hazy."

It is one of baseball's most electrifying moments, made more so by Hodges' hysteria. It came to be known as "the shot heard 'round the world" or "the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff." In that mystical instant, Branca and Thomson became as one, fused forever in our memories like Gallagher and Shean, Abbott and Costello, Johnson & Johnson.

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