Thursday, October 14, 2021


 ...will not be the 2021 Giants and Dodgers, despite what will turn out to be an even two dozen games that they've played against each other this year. 

That total ties the number of games played between the Dodgers and the Braves (still in Milwaukee) in 1959, where the two teams played 24 times (including a two-game playoff). But it's not the all-time record for most games played by two teams in a single season. That total (including post-season play) is 26--held by the Yankees and Red Sox, who did this in 2003 and 2004 thanks to two seven-game Championship Series.

But what about the most games played by two teams in a regular season? Clearly we wouldn't be writing any of this if it simply turned out to be those 1959 Dodgers and Braves. (The Dodgers, by the way, won 14 of the 24 contests played between those two teams that year.)

Have you got it? Yes, it happened exactly 70 years ago--1951, to be exact--when the Dodgers and Giants played 25 games against each other: 22 as regularly scheduled, and three more in a playoff series memorable for Bobby Thomson's walk-off home run.

That game capped an incredible comeback run by the Giants, who'd been 13 games behind the Dodgers as late as August 11, 1951--and who were still six games back as late as September 14th, at which point they won 11 of their next 12 games to wind up in a tie.

But the story of the Giants-Dodgers head-to-head competition in 1951 is as riveting and unusual as the playoff series itself. We examine some aspects of those 25 games in what follows.

First, the Giants got off to a terrible start in 1951, in large part due to losing their first five meetings with the Dodgers. At that point in the season they were 2-12 and nursing an eleven-game losing streak. (The Giants had blown leads in each of their three games vs. the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds on April 20-22, and lost two more at Ebbets Field before getting off the schneid thanks to a six-run first inning against two forgotten Dodgers--Chris Van Cuyk and Earl Mossor--en route to a 8-5 win.)

They would not win another game in Ebbets Field until September.

In late June, the Giants had turned around their season and entered a three-game series with the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds only 5 1/2 games behind the Dodgers. This series was an odd premonition of what would occur at the end of the year, with a similar "rubber game" on June 28th that the Giants won 5-4 thanks to a three-run homer--by Monte Irvin, however, not Bobby Thomson, which turned around the score in the bottom of the eighth, not the ninth. Consider it a practice run for what would happen three months later...

However, the Giants then proceeded to get their hats handed to them six times in a row at Ebbets Field--in a three game series on July 4-5 (including a doubleheader sweep on the 4th) and again on August 8-9 (including another doubleheader sweep on the 8th, made especially frustrating in the second game of that twin bill, where the Giants had rallied from a four-run deficit in the late innings only to lose in the tenth inning). In the game on the 9th, they'd blow a 5-3 lead and wind up losing 6-5 despite drawing a total of 15 walks in the game--and having Whitey Lockman thrown out at home trying to score the tying run in the top of the 9th.

At that point the Giants' record against the Dodgers overall was 3-12, and 1-8 in Ebbets Field. After that bitter 6-5 loss, they were 12 1/2 games out. Two days later it would reach 13, at which point the Giants would embark on a sixteen-game winning streak, including a sweep of the Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in three tightly contested games, won by the Giants by scores of 4-2, 3-1, and 2-1 (that last one being a memorable duel between Sal Maglie and Don Newcombe, with what proved to be the winning run coming on a Newcombe wild pitch).

At the beginning of September the Dodgers returned to the Polo Grounds for a two-game series and were routed each game (8-1 and 11-2), led by the unlikeliest player ever to hit five homers in two games: Giants right fielder Don Mueller, who hit three in the first game and two in the second. The Giants were now suddenly just five games back.

A week later the Giants were back at Ebbets Field, where they (of course) lost, a 9-0 rout, with Newcombe shutting them out on just two hits. The next day, September 9th, was pivotal, however: Irvin hit a two-run homer off Ralph Branca in the fourth, and Maglie made it stand up, scattering eight hits and four walks in a 2-1 win that was sealed by a game-ending double play with the tying run on third base. Without this win, the Giants would've come up short despite their 12-1 season-closing drive.

Going into the playoffs, the Dodgers had won the season series 13-9 thanks to that 9-2 cushion at home. They'd suffer an uncharacteristic loss in Game 155 when Irvin and Thomson hit homers off Branca and Jim Hearn allowed only a second-inning homer to Andy Pafko--sounds like a 2021 game, doesn't it--and the Giants scored a precious third win at Ebbets, 3-1. The Dodgers drubbed the Giants 10-0 in the second game behind Clem Labine in the first of two at the Polo Grounds. (The second game you may dimly remember due to its containing what is still called The Shot Heard Round The World.)

Not a catch-22, but a catch-24...
The head-to-head breakouts of hitting stats in for the two teams, separated into performance totals at each ballpark (excluding the three playoff games), show that the Dodgers were tigers (Tigers?) at the plate in Ebbets vs. the Giants that year, hitting 21 HRs in eleven games and combining for a .306 team average (that includes the pitchers, whose stats aren't shown). The Giants, led by the unlikely long-ball assault from Mueller, hit 17 HRs at the Polo Grounds; more crucially, their pitchers limited the Dodgers to a .206 team batting average, which helped them to win seven of the eleven regularly scheduled contests in '51.

Twenty-year old rookie Willie Mays was not a major presence in these games, though that would change soon enough: after hitting just .197 in all 19 games (including the three playoff games) against the Dodgers in '51, he'd return from the Army in 1954 to club 10 HRs in 22 games against Brooklyn, hitting .378 as the Giants turned around their season series with the Dodgers, going 13-9 against their crosstown rivals en route to a five-game cushion in the pennant race. And there was something about a catch, too--not a catch-22, though, just a catch--you might have heard of it...