The ’46 Playoff For The NL Pennant
The St. Louis Cardinals entered September of 1946 2 Â½ games up on the second place Brooklyn Dodgers for first place in the National League. Both teams played well for the most part in September (Dodgers went 21-8, Cardinals 18-10) and heading into the final day of the season, the two clubs were tied for first place. The Cardinals lost at home against Chicago by a score of 8-3 to leave the door open for Brooklyn to capture the NL pennant. However, the Dodgers were shut out by the Boston Braves 4-0, meaning the two clubs would square off in a playoff to see who would earn a World Series berth.
The Cardinals were led on offense that season by 25-year old Stan Musial and 30-year old Enos Slaughter, both of whom played all of St. Louis’ 156 games. Musial, who won NL MVP, led the National League in many major offensive categories, including average (.365), hits (228), and doubles (50), while Slaughter drove in a league best 130 RBIs. The pitching staff was led by left-hander Howie Pollet, who was back after two years of military service. Pollet put up an impressive 21-10 mark, which included a 2.10 ERA.
Thirty-five-year-old outfielder Dixie Walker led the charge on offense for the Dodgers. Walker, who finished second to Musial in MVP voting, hit .319 and had his second consecutive 100+ RBI season, finishing with 116. Middle infielders Pee Wee Reese (.384 OBP) and Eddie Stanky (.436) also played big parts in Brooklyn’s lineup. The rotation was fronted by left-hander Joe Hatten (14-11, 2.84) and righty Kirby Higbe (17-8, 3.03).
The Cardinals came into the series with cold bats. Since September 19th, St. Louis’ offense had not been producing and some players had appeared sluggish. Also not up to par was the Cards’ defense, which manager Eddie Dyer said had to improve in the postseason, as the team was not making enough plays behind their pitchers. Prior to Game 1, the two clubs had a coin toss to determine home field advantage for the three-game playoff. The Dodgers won the toss and manager Leo Durocher opted to host the second and third (if necessary) games of the series. That meant the two teams would travel to St. Louis for Game 1 before heading off Brooklyn to decide the pennant.
Dyer gave the ball in Game 1 to Pollet, despite the pitcher having injured himself in the last month of the season. Pollet, who had a pulled muscle in his throwing arm, had it taped up before the game but it did not seem to affect him as he was warming up. Meanwhile, Durocher opted to go with 20-year-old right-hander Ralph Branca, who made only 10 starts during the regular season, but had pitched two great games against the Cardinals already in the season.
A disappointing 26,000+ showed up for the first official playoff in National League history in St. Louis. Pollet wasn’t as sharp as he had been earlier in the season but he pitched well enough to give the Cardinals an important Game 1 victory over the Dodgers by a score of 4 to 2. Pollet pitched a complete game, eight-hitter but only surrendered two runs. Brooklyn had opportunities all game long but hit into inning-ending double plays in the third, fifth, and sixth innings.
However, the biggest killer came in the eighth inning. Bruce Edwards was on first base with two outs when Howie Schultz, who already hit a solo home run in the third inning, slapped a ball into right field. Edwards rounded second to go to third base but a perfect throw from a charging Enos Slaughter gunned down Edwards to erase the Dodgers in the eighth and to cap off a Cardinal victory.
Branca didn’t get out of the third inning, allowing three runs on six hits through 2 2/3rd innings. In all, Durocher went through five different pitchers, including Higbe. The Cardinals racked up 12 hits, their highest total in a month. Catcher Joe Garagiola had three of those hits, including two RBIs as well. The Cardinals captain, veteran Terry Moore, also had three hits while Musial had a pair, including a triple, the only extra base hit of the contest. Schultz drove in both Dodger runs with the home run in the third and a single in the seventh that brought home Reese.
In the Cardinals locker room afterward, Dyer was ecstatic, complementing his team on a great game while singing praise for Pollet, whom he called the ‘the gamest guy he’d ever seen.’ Meanwhile, the Dodgers were glum, especially Durocher, who shooed out photographers and reporters before heading to the showers to ‘cool off.’ Both teams hopped on an overnight train and arrived in Brooklyn the next afternoon to get prepared for Game 2, a 1:30 local time start.
Both managers had decisions to make as to who would start the second game. For Durocher, he would decide between his two best starters during the regular season, Higbe and Hatten. It seemed as though Durocher was leaning towards Hatten because he had been in the league for a longer time. Durocher also sent Hatten back to Brooklyn on a plane so he would get better rest in case he started. For St. Louis, they had narrowed their choices down to either Murry Dickson (15-6, 2.88) or Harry Brecheen (15-15, 2.49). Dickson was supposed to be the original choice but he spent most of the first game warming up in case Pollet’s arm prevented him from pitching at any point. Many thought this would make him too fatigued to pitch Game 2 (plus, he was battling a cold) and the Dodgers began preparing for Brecheen.
31,437 gathered at Ebbets Field to watch a win-or-stay-home game for their Dodgers. As somewhat expected, Joe Hatten would start on the mound for the Dodgers. However, he would oppose Murry Dickson, who would start the game despite battling a cold. The home side would grab the first lead of the game in the first, when Ed Stevens, getting the start over Howie Schultz at first base, drove in Augie Galan to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
After the first, though, Dodger batters were absolutely dominated by Dickson. He would retire the next 21 batters in a row, pitching absolute perfect baseball through the next seven innings. In that time, only one batted ball left the infield; a recorded out by Slaughter. In the meantime, Hatten didn’t fare as well. Erv Dusak and Dickson each had RBI triples in the second and in the fifth, St. Louis batters chased the left-hander from the game. They scored three more runs, two of them driven in on a Musial double, and the Cardinals took a commanding 5-1 lead.
Over the next four innings, Durocher trotted out five pitchers in relief of Hatten. The result was pretty much the same. The Cards scratched another run in the seventh and Whitey Kurowski drove two more runs in during the eighth. After St. Louis finished batting in the ninth, the team had racked up thirteen hits and had an 8-1 lead. Fans began filing out of Ebbets Field to get home a bit earlier from the disappointing loss. They would miss one of the more exciting innings of the year.
Galan started off with the club’s first hit since the opening inning by smacking a double off of Dickson. After retiring the next hitter, Dickson then faced Stevens, who again would drive in Galan, this time on a triple. Carl Furillo brought him home on a single and when Dickson walked the next batter, Reese, manager Eddie Dyer came out to make a pitching change. The Cardinals were still up 8-3 but the Dodgers had two runners on with only one out.
From the bullpen emerged Brecheen, who was greeted with a hit by Edwards to knock home another run. Durocher sent up Cookie Lavagetto to hit for the pitcher and the youngster battled Brecheen hard for a walk to load the bases. When Lavagetto took ball four, the roar that came out of Ebbets Field was said to be ‘heard on the other side of the river.’ All of a sudden, the Dodgers had the tying-run at the plate with still only one out.
Eddie Stanky approached the plate for the Dodgers. He got down in the count 1-2 and on the next pitch, he couldn’t even move the bat off of his shoulder on a called strike three. The crowd slowly quieted down to a murmur but the Dodgers still had one last chance in pinch-hitter Howie Schultz, who would bat for Dick Whitman, who had an 0-4 day. The pitcher and batter battled but finally, with the count full, Brecheen dropped a curve ball that slid right through the zone. Schultz took a mighty hack and missed by half a foot. Despite a valiant attempt, the Dodgers came up short and the St. Louis Cardinals were headed to the 1946 World Series.
The Cardinals ended up defeating the American League champion Boston Red Sox in the World Series in seven games, highlighted by Enos Slaughter’s ‘Mad Dash’ in the seventh game. The Dodgers ended up winning the pennant the next season, but lost the ’47 series to the New York Yankees.