One of baseball's all-time great pennant races took place in the National League in 1951, with the Giants and Dodgers battling it out right to the very end. Trailing Brooklyn by 13 ½ games in early August, the Giants went on to win 37 of their final 43 games to tie the Dodgers on the next-to-last day of the regular season. With both teams winning their final contest, the stage was set for a three-game playoff between the bitter rivals. The Giants won the first game, but the Dodgers came back to take the second contest, creating the dramatic setting for the decisive third game in New York's Polo Grounds. The Dodgers took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, but the Giants mounted a rally, scoring one run and putting two men on base with only one man out. Ralph Branca came in to relieve Dodger starter Don Newcombe with the tying run on second base and Bobby Thomson stepping to the plate for the Giants. With N.L. Rookie of the Year Willie Mays waiting in the on-deck circle, Dodger manager Chuck Dressen elected to pitch to Thomson, who responded by lining Branca’s second pitch into the left field stands for a three-run, pennant-winning home run.
With the Giants and Dodgers dominating the baseball headlines for most of the season's final month, it should come as no surprise that they had little difficulty separating themselves from the rest of the National League over the course of the regular season. New York finished the campaign with a record of 98-59, while Brooklyn ended the year with a mark of 97-60. No other team finished within shouting distance of the two clubs, with the St. Louis Cardinals coming in a distant third, 15 ½ games behind the pennant-winning Giants.
The Giants and Dodgers also finished first and second in the National League in runs scored, with Brooklyn topping the senior circuit by tallying a total of 855 runs. Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella paced the Dodgers on offense. Hodges hit 40 home runs, drove in 103 runs, and scored 118 others. Robinson hit 19 homers, knocked in 88 runs, scored 106 times, and batted .338. Snider homered 29 times, drove in 101 runs, scored 96 others, and batted .277. Campanella captured league MVP honors by hitting 33 homers, driving in 108 runs, and batting .325.
Meanwhile, Bobby Thomson and Monte Irvin led the Giants’ attack. Thomson hit 32 home runs, knocked in 101 runs, and batted .293. Irvin batted .312, scored 94 runs, hit 24 home runs, and topped the senior circuit with 121 runs batted in.
Both clubs also fared well on the mound, with the Giants surrendering a league-low 641 runs to the opposition. Sal Maglie finished 23-6 for the Giants, with a 2.93 ERA, 298 innings pitched, and 22 complete games. Larry Jansen tied his teammate for the league lead in victories by posting a record of 23-11. He also compiled a 3.04 ERA, threw 278 innings, and tossed 18 complete games.
Don Newcombe and Preacher Roe headed the Dodger staff. Newcombe went 20-9, with a 3.28 ERA and a league-leading 164 strikeouts. Roe compiled a record of 22-3, to lead all N.L. hurlers with a winning percentage of .880. He also posted an ERA of 3.04.
The Giants continued their miracle run during the early stages of the World Series, jumping out to a two-games-to-one lead against the New York Yankees. However, their American League counterparts succeeded in shifting the momentum of the Series, winning the next three contests to capture their third straight world championship.
Although the Giants and Dodgers made most of the headlines around the National League in 1951, Stan Musial remained the senior circuit’s best player. “Stan the Man” hit 32 home runs, drove in 108 runs, and led the league with 124 runs scored, a .355 batting average, 12 triples, and 355 total bases.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• May 6 - In the second game of a doubleheader, Cliff Chambers pitched a no-hitter, as the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Boston Braves, 3-0.
• July 10 - Exploding for a record four home runs, the National League trounced the American League, 8-3, at the annual All-Star Game, at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. Pittsburgh Pirates' slugger Ralph Kiner homered in the Midsummer Classic for the third year in a row.
• Although the Yankees defeated the Giants in six games in the World Series, Monte Irvin led all hitters in the Series with 11 hits and a .458 batting average.
• The Dodgers forced a playoff on the final day of the regular season, as Jackie Robinson hit a 14th-inning homer to defeat the Phillies.
• The Giants began a 16-game winning streak on August 12, en route to winning 37 of their final 43 contests.
• Ralph Kiner won his sixth consecutive National League home run crown by hitting 42 round-trippers. Kiner also topped the circuit with 137 walks, a .452 on-base percentage, and a .627 slugging percentage.
• Warren Spahn led all N.L. hurlers with 26 complete games, 164 strikeouts, and seven shutouts.
• Philadelphia’s Richie Ashburn led the major leagues with 221 hits.
• Braves rookie Chet Nichols led the National League with a 2.88 ERA.
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- 1951 World Series, Bobby Thomson, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chet Nichols, Chuck Dressen, Cliff Chambers, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Larry Jansen, Monte Irvin, New York Giants, Preacher Roe, Ralph Branca, Ralph Kiner, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Roy Campanella, Sal Maglie, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Willie Mays