The MLB postseason delivers iconic moments every year, some so important they live on in baseball lore for generations. However, one moment was so important and shocking that it shares a name with the moment that started the Revolutionary War: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.
The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers were battling for a spot in the 1951 World Series. Both teams finished with identical records at the end of the season, forcing them to do battle in a three-game playoff. The Giants won the first game 3-1, but the Dodgers came out victorious in game two, massacring the Giants 10-0. This set up a winner-take-all game three in the Polo Grounds.
The Oct. 3 game was a pitchers’ duel. The Dodgers sent out their ace, 20-game-winner Don Newcombe, while the Giants sent out their ace and 1951 All-Star Sal Maglie. The two battled all game, with both pitching at least eight innings. The Dodgers struck first and early, scoring a run in the first inning. They would hold the lead until the seventh, when Bobby Thompson brought Monte Irvin home with a sacrifice fly, tying the game. The tie lasted about as long as your grandma’s brownies on Christmas. The Dodgers responded by scoring three runs in the following half inning to go up 4-1.
Hope seemed lost for the Giants. Their best starter could not take them to the promised land. The Giants hadn’t won the pennant since 1937 and hadn’t held a World Series trophy since 1933. They were on the verge of something spectacular, but it seemed that luck was not on their side.
The game had other implications as well. It was the first nationally televised baseball game in history, and tons more listened on the radio.
In the ninth inning, the Giants battled hard against Newcombe, squeaking out a run to make the game 4-2. Newcombe was replaced by Game 1 starter Ralph Branca, who had only been give a day’s rest before being summoned to the mound with runners on first and second. Bobby Thompson stepped to the plate once again, looking to cut down on the Dodger lead. He did much more than that.
On the second pitch Branca threw, Thompson ripped a line drive to left field, where the fence was only 279 feet away. The ball carried just enough and landed a few rows deep. Thompson had just hit a walk-off home run. Giants play-by-play announcer Russ Hodges celebrated with his now legendary call, repeating “The Giants won the Pennant!” as Thompson rounded the bases.
That home run changed baseball for the Giants. Although they came up short in the 1951 World Series, they bounced back and won it in 1954 on the shoulders of a man who was a rookie during the 1951 season. That man was Willie Mays, and that 1954 series was when he made his famous catch in center field of the very same Polo Grounds.
Who knows what this year’s postseason holds for us? If we’re lucky, it may be a moment that will be remembered forever.