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Mueller took full advantage of this miscalculation, guiding a single directly through the space Hodges had vacated. If Hodges had been where he was supposed to be, Mueller's ground ball could have been a rally-killing double play. But now there were runners on first and third, and Irvin, who had driven in 121 runs, was at the plate. But Newcombe got Irvin to foul out to Hodges on his first pitch, a fastball well outside the plate. "Monte was just sick about it," says Rigney. "So I told him, 'Hey, it could've been worse. You could've hit into a double play.' " But Lockman kept the rally alive with a double down the leftfield line that scored Dark and led to Mueller's injury at third. Newcombe was clearly finished, a fact that even Robinson conceded in a conference on the mound. Branca was striding in from the bullpen to pitch to the Giants' next hitter, Thomson.
Ralph Branca is enjoying a bowl of soup at Rosen's delicatessen, around the corner from the baseball commissioner's office in midtown Manhattan. He has come to the city this day from his insurance-company office in White Plains, N.Y., in his capacity as chairman of the Baseball Assistance Team, which distributes funds to indigent former ballplayers, umpires and front-office personnel and their widows. "The end can come quickly for a ballplayer, you know," he says, speaking from cruel experience. "The body is fragile. And so many players have difficulty coping after the money stops." Branca is a large man, perhaps 25 pounds over his playing weight of 225. His long-nosed, sad-eyed face has a deceptively melancholy cast to it. In fact, he is a self-confident man with an engaging wit.
"I still bleed Dodger blue," he says, dabbing at his chin with a napkin. "But I grew up a Giants fan. I think in all of Mount Vernon, there was just one Dodger fan, a fellow named Kenny Hale. Sixty percent of the people there were Yankee fans, 39 percent were for the Giants, and then there was Kenny Hale. I'd pitched and played basketball one year at NYU when the Dodgers signed me. I was only 18, but I could throw hard. I went straight to Brooklyn and pitched a little in '44. Then, in '45, I was 5 and 6 and could have been 11 and 2 if I'd had any support. In '46, I was a starter, but in my first game, the Dodgers' third, I got hit on the arm by a batted ball. Couldn't throw at all for two weeks. Then I got in Charlie Dressen's doghouse. He was coaching for Durocher then, and he wanted me to pitch batting practice while I was recovering. I told him no. In those days, you were just supposed to lay the ball in there in BP, throwing nothing but three-quarter-speed fastballs. I thought I might develop bad habits doing that, so I said, 'Charlie, you can't make a living throwing batting practice.' He wouldn't speak to me for a month after that, and I ended up throwing mop-up relief.
"They finally started me on September 14 against the Cardinals, and I pitched a three-hit shutout and struck out nine. I won my next start, too, and started that playoff game against the Cardinals. If Dressen hadn't gotten ticked off at me, I might've won 12 to 15 games that year. The next year, 1947, I made it out of the doghouse. I was only 21 years old and I won 21 games. Led the league in starts , was second in strikeouts  and third in ERA [2.67]. I pitched 280 innings and threw seven times in relief. You wouldn't do that with a 21-year-old today."
Branca smiles ruefully. "I'd always pitched well against the Giants, even in that first playoff game at Ebbets Field. The funny thing is, the ball Bobby hit out in that game was to left center at the 350-foot mark. That wouldn't have been a home run in the Polo Grounds. As for the next one he hit...well, that wouldn't have been out in Ebbets Field."
The Polo grounds was, like so many ballparks of its time, oddly proportioned. The foul poles in left- and rightfield were only 279 and 257 feet from home plate, respectively, and in left, the upper deck extended over the lower, so that pull hitters had a better target upstairs than down. But the Polo Grounds was horseshoe-shaped, like a football stadium, and the distance to the fence increased dramatically in the power alleys. Dead centerfield was 483 feet from home plate. The Giants' best power hitters in 1951—Thomson (32 homers), Irvin (24) and Mays (20)—were not dead pull hitters, and many of their longest drives were flagged down in those remote power alleys.
When Mueller collapsed at third after Lockman's hit, Thomson rushed to his side from the on-deck circle. "I wasn't aware the Dodgers had changed pitchers until I started walking those 90 feet back to the plate," he recalls. "People have asked me if the crowd noise affected me. Well, to tell the truth, I felt like I was the only guy in the ballpark. I was talking to myself as I walked down the line, and I'd never done that before."
Branca's first pitch was a fastball down the heart of the plate. Thomson took it. "Ralph was doing just what a relief pitcher wants to do—get ahead of the hitter," Thomson says. The next pitch was another fastball, but this one was high and inside, definitely not a strike. Branca was setting Thomson up for the next pitch he planned to throw, a curveball low and away. But Thomson did not take that fastball inside. Instead, he swung and connected solidly. "I've never hit a ball like that before or since," he says. "I thought it was headed for the upper deck, but I'd gotten on top of it, and it started to sink. When I saw it sink, I didn't think it would be a home run. I thought it might hit the fence."
Pafko, in leftfield, thought the ball might sink even farther, so he raced to the base of the 17-foot-high wall at the 315-foot sign to make the catch. Snider came over from centerfield to take a possible carom. And then the ball disappeared into the lower deck.
When Thomson hit the ball, Ernie Harwell, broadcasting nationwide from the NBC television booth, cried out, "It's gone!" Then, as the ball started to sink, he looked stunned. "I said to myself, 'If that ball drops into Pafko's glove, I'm in deep trouble.' " Next door, Red Barber, broadcasting for the Dodgers on radio station WMGM, said in his no-nonsense manner, "It's in there for the pennant." It remained for the Giants' announcer on WMCA, Russ Hodges, to freeze the moment in time, to capture the pure shock and joy of this baseball miracle: