|The tale of the 1951 National League Pennant race and playoff has been well chronicled in baseball history. However, there is a greater story to be told, a team and players giving all their ability, against all odds, with full heart and hope.
The Dodgers and the Giants were bitter rivals in New York and they waged a tremendous pennant race during the season. The Dodgers led the Giants by 13 1/2 games in the middle of August. The Giants caught fire and began to win virtually every game.
Throughout the month of September, eyes were riveted on the scoreboards to follow the games in progress. Slowly, steadily, the Dodger lead over the Giants shrank. The Giants continued to keep the pressure on the Dodgers until ultimately on September 28, a Dodger loss to the Phillies in Philadelphia left the Dodgers and Giants with an identical 94-58 record with two games left to play for the 1951 National League Pennant.
On Saturday, September 29, the Giants won that afternoon in Boston, beating the Braves and moved 1/2-game ahead. The Dodgers would have to win to remain tied for first place. The Dodgers’ best pitcher, Don Newcombe, started against 21-game winner and future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts of the Phillies.
Q--You started the Saturday game against Philadelphia on just two days’ rest. Were you ready to pitch?
“Charlie Dressen (Dodger manager) asked me how I felt as I recall. He asked me to go as long as I possibly could go and then he would get somebody fresh in there to relieve me. He was leading up to and hoping to get to the playoffs if there was going to be one with the Giants. He asked me if I was willing to do it. I said sure. I was lucky enough to have good stuff. It was just one of those times where you have to get ready and go as far as you can go and then you get somebody else in there to relieve you.”
Q--Was it a risk to start you on two days’ rest?
“We had to win and he was going to go with his best. I guess I was considered his best at that time. I was fortunate enough to have the kind of stuff to pitch a shutout.”
A large crowd filled Shibe Park and thousands of Dodger fans came to the game in Philadelphia.
Q--Were you going to pitch nine innings to help the bullpen rest?
“I always wanted to pitch because of my contract with Buzzie Bavasi. My compensation in that era was based upon complete games and I had a shutout going, so I wanted a complete game shutout. It was based upon my contract negotiation for the next season.”
Newcombe thoroughly dominated the Phillies, allowing just seven hits to a good hitting Phillie club. The Dodgers staked him to a 4-0 lead by the third inning and supported him with fine defensive plays by Jackie Robinson and outfielder Andy Pafko. Pitching on the road and with only two days of rest from his previous start, Newcombe throws a 5-0 shutout over the Phillies. The shutout is Newcombe’s third of the season and his 20th win.
Q--The club scored four runs early. Did that help you with your stuff on two days’ rest?
“It helped me with my stuff and my mental approach to the game. The Phillies were a tough ballclub in that era to pitch against. You had to bear down all the time. And Jackie Robinson wasn’t the kind of player who would let you spot the ball once you had the lead. I did that once after joining the club in 1949 against Pittsburgh and Jackie read me out. I never forgot that. This was too important not only to the Dodger players, but the Dodger fans.”
Q--After the Saturday game, did you discuss with Dressen about coming back for the final regular season game on Sunday?
“We never talked about it. We just went along with the idea that everybody was going to be available, regardless of who it was and when it was. We always told our Manager Chuck Dressen that, because he wanted to know how you felt and if you’re okay and if I can use you, can I use you? And that’s the way it was with him. It’s an important part of the season, it couldn’t have been a more important part. And everybody had to be available, so I made myself available. It was just unspoken.”
The complete game shutout by Newcombe put the Dodgers and Giants in a flat out tie after 153 regular season games with just one game and plenty of drama left to play.