The Giants through the years are best known for home runs and heartbreak.
Four of the top 23 players on the career home run leaders’ list hit the bulk of their bombs while playing for the Giants.
All-time leader Barry Bonds hit most of his 762 homers in a Giants' uniform. Willie Mays (660) and Willie McCovey (521) did the same.
When Mays became the National League’s career home run king in 1966, he surpassed the mark of New York Giants' Hall of Famer, Mel Ott (511).
Home runs hit on the way to records only remain vivid by virtue of how they influenced big games and pennant races. (Thus, the No. 1 homer in Giants history here will surprise some and anger many!) That is where the heartbreak comes into play. The Giants are short of home runs that led them to glory that was not followed by heartbreak.
The five most important Giants home runs listed here almost all made dreams come true.
5. Dave Kingman’s HR wins NL West
Sept. 30, 1971
An aging club led by Mays, McCovey, and pitcher Juan Marichal topped the National League West from opening day forward. They even extended their lead to 8 ½ games as late as Sept. 4. As has so often been the case for San Francisco fans, the title started to slip away.
The Giants led the Los Angeles Dodgers by just one game on Sept. 16. The division race was still undecided on the final day of the season.
Mays, McCovey, and Marichal were the nucleus of a team that won the National League in 1962, and fans assumed they would win many more pennants before they were through. They were all past their prime in ’71 and things had not gone quite as expected.
So, the old Giants needed Marichal to defeat the lowly San Diego Padres on the final day of the season to give the Giants their first title since ’62.
Dave Kingman finished his big league career with 442 home runs, but was just a rookie batting fifth and playing right field against Padres southpaw Dave Roberts in the season finale.
The NL West championship and the final portion of the legacies of Mays, McCovey, and Marichal were at stake in San Diego.
Thousands of Giants fans made the trip south and watched three scoreless innings as the scoreboard showed that the Dodgers were in the process of defeating the Houston Astros, 2-1.
Tito Fuentes singled to left to start the fourth off of Roberts. Mays gave the Giants a lead with an RBI-double. Marichal needed runs, but Roberts retired McCovey on a fly ball to center.
With one out, Kingman launched a blast into the San Diego night. The two-run shot made it 3-0—and gave Marichal breathing room, en route to a 5-1 win.
Kingman’s clout will be remembered for giving three of the greatest Giants their second, and final title together.
4. Willie Mays breaks NL career homer mark
May 4, 1966
After the drug-induced surge in the long ball since 1998, we forget that 500 homers once assured entry to the Hall of Fame.
America was watching when the 34-year-old Mays hit No. 500 on Sept. 13, 1965 in a win over the Astros that gave the Giants a 2 1/2 game lead. The Dodgers clinched the NL crown on the final weekend of the season, heartbreak.
The Giants entertained Los Angeles in early 1966. Mays had tied Ott’s home run mark. The Giants were trailing the same club that slipped past them at the end of ’65.
San Francisco won the series opener, and then faced lefthander Claude Osteen on a Tuesday night before a crowd of 25,000 in Candlestick Park.
Osteen struck Mays out in each of his first two at bats. Mays sought to pad the Giants 4-1 lead to start the bottom of the fifth.
Mays brought the 25,000 fans to their feet with a booming drive over the cyclone fence at The ’Stick. At once, Willie had given San Francisco fans their own Giants and NL home run king. This also pulled the club closer to a victory over the Dodgers.
No. 512 iced the second of 12 straight Giants wins that pushed the club past the Dodgers, and into a four-game lead in the NL. This was the start to an unforgettable pennant chase.
3. Barry Bonds hits No. 71 to set single season record.
Oct. 5, 2001
Revisionist history might lead some to scoff at the notion that being embroiled in the steroids controversy diminishes the importance of every home run that Bonds hit.
When Bonds was making his run at the single-season record, many marveled at the feat.
The fans, the media, and baseball officials all embraced what we later realized was an unnatural surge in home runs that began when Mark McGwire hit 70 in 1998, which shattered the mark of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961.
Bonds hit his 50th on Aug. 11 and Giants fans had front row seats as Bonds began to prove he could chase, perhaps catch, home run legends. McGwire’s 70 stunned us—then came Bonds in the heat of an NL West pennant race.
Bonds hit three home runs on Sept. 9 in Colorado. He was called out of the dugout by Rockies’ fans to tip his cap, and another curtain call on the road for No. 62.
We were not skeptical. We loved it. He was eight homers behind McGwire’s record with 18 games left to play.
Fans filled what was then Pacific Bell Park to celebrate the second season of the Giants new stadium and Bonds’ unthinkable march toward 70 home runs. San Francisco and the Giants were at the center of the baseball universe.
Bonds finally caught McGwire with No. 70 to enter a season-ending three-game series, with a playoff spot still up for grabs, against the Dodgers in .
Righthander Chan Ho Park and a sellout crowd of 41,730 awaited Bonds before his first at-bat on a cool, Friday evening by the San Francisco Bay.
With every fan in the ball park standing, cameras flashed as Bonds drilled Park’s tailing fastball over the wall in right-center field. The 442-foot blast rocked baseball.
The BALCO investigation was two years away from being made public.
Bonds was the single-season home run champion and Giants fans went wild, absolutely wild.
When Bonds planted No. 72 in the seats two innings later, euphoria swept Giants Nation. Baseball fans from everywhere, perhaps begrudgingly, cheered the home run king.
The homers kept the club’s playoff hopes alive. Well, at least for seven more innings until the Dodgers closed an 11-10 win that ended the playoff race.
But in this case, the home runs left no room for heartbreak.
Bonds hit No. 73 came two days later to set a single-season mark that will almost certainly never be broken. It capped a glorious rebirth of San Francisco baseball after the city nearly lost its team to Toronto in 1976 and again later to St. Petersburg, Fla.
2. “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”
Oct. 3, 1951
The New York Giants trailed the National League-leading Brooklyn Dodgers by 13 ½ games on Aug. 11, 1951.
The Giants proceeded to catch fire while the Dodgers wilted. The Giants won 37 of their last 44 games, forcing the Bums from Brooklyn to beat the Philadelphia Phillies on the final day of the regular season to force a best-of-three playoff series for the NL title.
The Giants won the first game, 3-1. But then, their fans were overwhelmed with the sense of impending doom as Brooklyn crushed the Giants, 10-0. The Dodgers needed just one more win to advance to face the AL champion New York Yankees.
Exhausted aces faced each other in the finale in the Polo Grounds.
The Dodgers called on Don Newcombe. He had pitched a complete game on the final Saturday of the season, and then worked 5 2/3 innings in relief the very next day. Working on just two days rest, he faced the Giants Sal Maglie.
Maglie cracked, and the rubber-armed Newcombe carried a seemingly insurmountable, 4-1, lead into the bottom of the ninth.
The Giants got a single from Alvin Dark to open the ninth. Don Mueller then singled to right. When Monte Irvin popped out, the Polo Grounds' fans felt a million miles away from a miracle.
Whitey Lockman yanked a double down the left-field line to make it 4-2 with runners on second and third.
Newcombe departed in favor of veteran Ralph Branca, who had to face Bobby Thompson.
New York was the center of the baseball universe in 1951, and that universe stood still as Thompson stepped into the box with the tying run on second and one out.
Branca poured a fastball in for a strike. He later said that the ensuing fastball was supposed to be up to set up as a breaking ball away.
Thomson turned on the ill-advised heater and pulled it down the left-field line. Giants base runners watched hopefully as the ball landed in the seats.
Thompson’s 3-run homer had capped an amazing comeback season.
The moment has been immortalized by the famous call of Giants announcer Russ Hodges who shrieked, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"
It is known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and “The Miracle on Coogan’s Bluff.” However, it did not lead to a world championship as The Yankees won the crown in six games.
Home run and heartbreak.
1. Brian Johnson’s Home Run Beats Dodgers;
Giants begin new era of NL dominance
Sept. 18, 1997
Brian Johnson was a journeyman catcher whose home run to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-5 in 12 innings changed the face of the National League West playoff race and the long-term fortunes of the two longtime rivals.
The Giants had finished in last place in 1996, but they led the Dodgers by six games early. As had happened so many times before, the Dodgers stormed back and had a two-game edge on the Giants as the clubs opened a two-game series.
The Giants won the opener, 2-1.
Game 2 of the series was played on a warm, sunny, wind-free Thursday afternoon. 52,188 fans struggled to catch their breath as the Giants squandered a 5-1 lead to allow the Dodgers to tie things in the seventh.
The score was tied 5-5 after nine innings. It appeared that this time there would only be heartbreak, and no home run.
The Dodgers loaded the bases on three singles with no outs in the 10th against Giants closer Rod Beck.
Beck struck out Todd Zeile, and then he induced Eddie Murray to hit into a double play. The 52,000 fans rocked Candlestick Park.
Johnson led off the bottom of the 10th. Lefthander Mark Guthrie served up a fastball that Johnson rocketed toward the fence in left field.
The wind had started to swirl and an earlier blow in the same direction had become a harmless fly ball.
This time, the ball cleared the fence and Johnson became a Giants' legend by ending the four-hour marathon in a 6-5 victory for the San Francisco Giants.
Johnson’s teammates mobbed him when he crossed home plate. The Giants were tied for the division lead.
They would go on to win and earn their first postseason spot in eight years. They began to build the nucleus for a team that would return to the playoffs three times. The club debuted their beautiful downtown ball park in 2000 as a winner and returned to the World Series in 2002.
The Dodgers fell upon hard times after Johnson’s unforgettable “Clout at Candlestick.”
Johnson’s home run is the most important in club history because it introduced the most successful stretch in San Francisco Giants history, and for a time, changed the balance of power between the Giants and their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.