Dodgers-Giants goes down to wire again

October 3rd, 2021

The Dodgers. The Giants. A baseball rivalry that spans more than three-quarters of a century and 3,000 miles. From New York to the West Coast, these two clubs have clashed in bitter battles numerous times over the years, and in a select few, they have battled for a league or division title all the way to the very end of the regular season -- and even beyond.

And it's all playing out on center stage again today. Seventy years to the day after Bobby Thomson's iconic "Shot Heard 'Round the World" won the Giants the pennant over the Dodgers, the National League West title is coming down to the final day of the regular season. Will it be San Francisco or Los Angeles on top at the end?

Here's where they stand entering Game 162. The Giants are 106-55. The Dodgers are 105-56. They have the two best records in baseball. The Giants host the Padres at Oracle Park at 3:05 p.m. ET, while the Dodgers host the Brewers at Dodger Stadium at 3:10 p.m. ET.

If the Giants win, they clinch the division title. If the Dodgers lose, the Giants clinch. But if the Giants lose and the Dodgers win? They'd both be 106-56. The two rivals would then meet in a tiebreaker game in San Francisco on Monday to determine the division champion, where maybe another Thomson-like hero would emerge. (The loser would host the NL Wild Card game against the Cardinals.)

Whoever wins in 2021, it's a great time to look back at similar scenarios in Dodgers-Giants history. Here we rank six such instances featuring some iconic moments.

1) 1951: The 'Shot Heard 'Round the World'

"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" We've all heard the famous call from the legendary Russ Hodges as Bobby Thomson's line drive sailed over the left-field wall at the Polo Grounds on Oct. 3, 1951. The significance of that home run, and the hype that led up to it, made it one of the most famous homers in baseball history.

On Aug. 11 of that season, the Giants were 13 games behind the Dodgers in the NL standings. From there, New York reeled off 37 wins over the next 44 games to catch Brooklyn by the final day of the regular season. That forced a three-game playoff to determine the NL champion. The Giants won the first game, 3-1, at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers evened the series with a 10-0 rout in Game 2 at the Polo Grounds the next day. That set up the memorable winner-take-all third game.

Through seven innings, Game 3 at the Polo Grounds was tied, 1-1. The Dodgers broke through for three runs in the top of the eighth, and took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Giants got consecutive singles from Al Dark and Don Mueller to open the frame, and one out later, Whitey Lockman doubled in Dark and put the tying run on second base for Bobby Thomson. Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen went to his bullpen, summoning Ralph Branca to take over for Don Newcombe.

What happened next is the subject of both legend and controversy. Thomson lined an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left field for a three-run homer that won the game and the pennant for the Giants.

In the 70 years since the famous homer, it's come to light that Thomson may have known what pitch was coming -- the Giants had rigged an elaborate system using a telescope atop the clubhouse, which was in center field at the Polo Grounds. The person stealing the catcher's signs from center field would then send a signal to the bullpen via wires that were routed there to enable a buzzing sound. And someone in the bullpen would relay signs to the hitter.

Regardless of whether Thomson knew what was coming when he took one of the most famous swings in baseball history, it remains an iconic moment in the game's lore.

2) 2004: Finley finishes off Giants

It wasn't a winner-take-all tiebreaker series, but on the final weekend of the regular season in 2004, the Giants went to Dodger Stadium trailing Los Angeles by three games with three head-to-head matchups to close out the schedule. They needed a sweep. They didn't get it. And the Dodgers struck the crushing blow in a painful way: a walk-off grand slam in Game 2 to clinch the division.

The man who launched the dramatic slam was Steve Finley, a veteran center fielder who only played in 58 games for the Dodgers. The Giants entered the bottom of the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead after having won Game 1 of the series. But San Francisco collapsed, issuing three walks and committing a crucial defensive error that resulted in the Dodgers tying the game. With the bases loaded, Finley knocked out the Giants with his drive over the right-center-field wall off reliever Wayne Franklin.

3) 1997: 'Dustiny' denies Dodgers

In 1996, the Giants finished last in the NL West with a record of 68-94. But they went from worst-to-first in '97 thanks to the additions of Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow, among others -- not to mention the guiding hand of their manager, Dusty Baker. They won the division with a flourish, sweeping the Dodgers in a two-game series in late September and then outrunning them to the finish line to complete what many began calling their "Dustiny."

Los Angeles led San Francisco by two games when the rivals met at Candlestick Park from Sept. 17-18. But with a couple of memorable home runs -- one in the first game, and the biggest hit of the season in the second -- the Giants tied the Dodgers and won six of their final nine games to clinch their first division title in eight years on Sept. 27.

Barry Bonds set the tone early in Game 1 of the Dodgers series with a home run off the facade of the upper deck in right field in the first inning. And Brian Johnson capped the series with one of the most famous homers in franchise history, a walk-off homer in the 12th inning to pull San Francisco even atop the NL West.

The Giants would eventually be swept by the Marlins in the NL Division Series, but the run from last place to first place that year will never be forgotten in the city by the Bay.

4) 1962: San Francisco's Giant comeback

There are many who either recall or have heard about the way the 1962 World Series between the Giants and Yankees ended -- with San Francisco trailing in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 at Candlestick Park, Willie McCovey stepped to the plate with two outs and runners at second and third. He smashed a line drive headed for right field that was snared by Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson to clinch the title for New York.

But not everyone knows it took another three-game tiebreaker series to determine the NL champion when the Giants and Dodgers finished even atop the league standings with an identical record of 101-61. Eleven years after the "Shot Heard 'Round the World," the two clubs -- now California brethren -- faced each other again for the pennant.

The first game was played at Candlestick Park, and the Giants jumped out to an early 3-0 lead against legendary left-hander Sandy Koufax. After knocking Koufax out of the game, San Francisco continued its offensive onslaught with five more runs in an 8-0 rout of Los Angeles. Willie Mays belted a pair of homers and Billy Pierce tossed a three-hit shutout.

When the scene shifted to Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers turned a 5-0 deficit into a 7-5 lead with a huge sixth inning. The Giants tied the game with two in the eighth, but in the bottom of the ninth, Ron Fairly delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly to set up another winner-take-all Game 3.

Game 3 was also in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers found themselves three outs from the pennant as they entered the top of the ninth inning leading, 4-2. But Los Angeles collapsed, walking four batters (one intentionally), throwing a wild pitch and committing a catastrophic error at second base that enabled San Francisco to rally for four runs and win, 6-4.

5) 1965: Koufax, Drysdale will Dodgers to pennant

The Dodgers entered the final 10-game stretch of the regular season trailing the first-place Giants by 3 1/2 games in the NL standings. But Koufax and Don Drysdale would not allow Los Angeles to fade away -- over his final three starts of the season, Koufax posted a 0.33 ERA with 38 strikeouts and eight walks, while Drysdale didn't give up a single run over his final three outings, fanning 19 and walking only one.

Led by their two aces, the Dodgers overtook the Giants on the second-to-last day of the regular season as San Francisco dropped six of its last nine games to finish two games back. The Dodgers went on to win the World Series that October in seven games over the Twins.

6) 1971: Giants hold off Dodgers' surge

When September began for the 1971 Giants, they held a comfortable eight-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West. But while the surging Dodgers went 18-9 over the final month of the season, San Francisco stumbled to an 11-16 mark.

It all came down to the final day of the regular season, with the Giants clinging to a one-game lead. The Dodgers beat the Astros in Los Angeles, 2-1, meaning the only way to avoid the third tie-breaker between the clubs in two decades was for San Francisco to win -- the Giants did, beating the Padres in San Diego, 5-1.