Ralph Branca came close to pitching two no-hitters against the Cardinals within a span of a month. Instead, he earned a one-hit shutout in one of those games and he had another one-hitter when he departed with two outs in the ninth inning of the other game.
On July 18, 1947, Branca delivered the best performance of his career, retiring the first 21 Cardinals batters in a row and finishing with a one-hitter in the Dodgers’ 7-0 victory at Brooklyn.
A month later, on Aug. 20, 1947, Branca again held the Cardinals to one hit before he was lifted after pitching 8.2 innings. The Cardinals rallied against reliever Hugh Casey, tying the score in the ninth and winning, 3-2, with a run in the 12th at Brooklyn.
Those were among the most memorable games the Cardinals played against Branca, who died at 90 on Nov. 23, 2016.
Best known as the pitcher who yielded the ninth-inning home run to Bobby Thomson that gave the Giants a pennant-clinching victory over the Dodgers in 1951, Branca was a key figure in the National League rivalry between the Dodgers and Cardinals in the 1940s.
Branca started for the Dodgers in pivotal games against the Cardinals during the 1946 pennant stretch.
On Sept, 14, 1946, Branca pitched a three-hit shutout in a 5-0 victory against the Cardinals at Brooklyn, moving the Dodgers within a half-game of the first-place Redbirds. Boxscore
Three weeks later, on Oct. 1, 1946, after the Dodgers and Cardinals had finished the regular season tied for first place, Branca started the opener of a best-of-three series to determine the NL champion. He gave up three runs in 2.2 innings and took the loss in a 4-2 Cardinals victory at St. Louis. Boxscore The Cardinals won the next game, clinching the pennant, and then four of seven against the Red Sox in the World Series.
A year later, the Dodgers and Cardinals were battling for the 1947 pennant.
Branca lost each of his first three decisions against the Cardinals in 1947. Still, he had a 14-7 record entering his July 18 start against them at Ebbets Field.
The game matched Branca against Red Munger of the Cardinals. While Branca handcuffed the Cardinals, the Dodgers scored five runs off Munger in the first four innings.
After pitching seven perfect innings, Branca faced Enos Slaughter leading off the eighth. Slaughter hit Branca’s first pitch for a single to right field.
“I couldn’t help but know I was pitching a no-hitter the way they went down, one, two, three, in every inning,” Branca said to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Naturally, I was disappointed when Slaughter got hold of that one in the eighth. It was my fault. I was pressing a little, being too careful. I didn’t get that high fastball … inside quite far enough.”
In its account of the game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined, “The Cardinals looked at the best pitching they’ve seen all season.” Boxscore
The Cardinals returned to Brooklyn in August for a four-game series with the league leaders. The Dodgers won two of the first three, opening a 5.5-game lead over second-place St. Louis.
Branca started the finale and responded with another gem, holding the Cardinals hitless again for seven innings.
Like Slaughter a month earlier, Whitey Kurowski ended the no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the eighth.
Still, Branca entered the ninth with a 2-0 lead.
Though he issued a walk to the first batter, Red Schoendienst, Branca retired Terry Moore and Stan Musial on groundouts, with Schoendienst advancing to third.
Slaughter was up next.
Branca got ahead in the count, 1-and-2. Needing a strike to complete another one-hit shutout, Branca walked Slaughter.
After Branca’s first two pitches to the next batter, Ron Northey, missed the strike zone, manager Burt Shotton yanked his ace and replaced him with Casey.
Northey greeted Casey with a single, scoring Schoendienst, moving Slaughter to third and cutting the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1.
Kurowski followed with a grounder to Spider Jorgensen. The third baseman booted the ball for an error as Slaughter streaked to the plate with the tying run.
In the 11th, the game took another controversial twist.
Slaughter hit a ground ball to first baseman Jackie Robinson, who that season had broken baseball’s color barrier.
Robinson fielded the ball and raced to the bag. As Slaughter arrived _ “head down in a dash for first,” according to the Post-Dispatch _ he stepped on Robinson’s right foot, spiking him.
Robinson “limped and dropped to the ground,” the Post-Dispatch reported, “but apparently, because of the thickness of his shoe and the mud on Slaughter’s spikes, Robinson suffered no cut.”
To the Dodgers and the Brooklyn crowd, it appeared Slaughter intentionally tried to injure Robinson.
“No one can read Slaughter’s North Carolina mind, but the crowd unanimously decided to believe that he was curious to see how Robinson would look with one leg,” wrote Tommy Holmes of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Robinson told The Sporting News, “All I know is that I had my foot on the inside of the bag. I gave Slaughter plenty of room.”
Said Slaughter: “I’ve never deliberately spiked anyone in my life.”
More drama unfolded in the 12th.
Kurowski hit Casey’s first pitch of the inning into the left-field seats for a home run, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, Robinson led off with a single against Howie Pollet and moved to second on Pete Reiser’s sacrifice bunt.
Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer lifted Pollet, who was working his fifth inning of relief, and replaced him with Munger.
Before delivering a pitch, Munger whirled and snapped a throw to shortstop Marty Marion, who tagged a startled Robinson for the second out.
The next batter, Arky Vaughan, grounded out, ending the saga. Boxscore
Despite the setback, the Dodgers went on to win the 1947 pennant, finishing five games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals. Branca posted a 21-12 record and 2.67 ERA.
For his 12-year career in the big leagues, Branca had an 88-68 record, including 8-10 against the Cardinals.