Tonight, in Houston, when the Atlanta Braves’ Max Fried—the greatest active Jewish pitcher in baseball—throws a first-inning pitch to Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros—the greatest active Jewish hitter, it will be the first time that baseball’s two biggest Jewish stars have faced each other in an MLB game. Whoever wins that contest—which will be repeated two or three times that night, and again in a possible game 6—has a better-than-even chance of winning the World Series.
According to the gematria that governs advanced baseball statistics, it will likely be Fried’s ninth pitch. Jose Altuve, the leadoff batter for Houston, will see four pitches to start the first inning. Michael Brantley, batting second, will see four as well. Assuming a few minutes between the game’s official beginning and the first pitch, and taking a reasonable 60 seconds between batters, Alex Bregman, batting third, will step up to the plate at 8:18 p.m., inverse palindromic chai—what else?
He will tamp down the dirt by the catcher with his right foot and then go for a little walk around the batter’s box. When he reenters, he will click the bat against his shoes and settle into a wide stance. He will slowly circle his bat in the air.
Sixty feet and six inches away, Max Fried will wait for Bregman to finish his routine. The odds slightly favor one man having gotten on base—probably Altuve. Jose Altuve is 5-foot-6 and has tiny legs. Fried is not worried that he will try to steal. He is focused only on Bregman.
Bregman, consistent all year, has hit an even .300 against lefties like Fried. He is a patient, disciplined, old-school hitter. He tends to wait for a nice fastball and then calmly shoot it into the outfield.
Fried, who knows this, will sway back, crunch up his long limbs, and unfurl a 95-mph fastball. Bregman, who doesn’t jump on early pitches, will take the strike looking—if Fried can sneak in this first-pitch fastball, he can rely on his curveball for the rest of the at-bat. Bregman makes contact half as often on curveballs as he does on fastballs, and takes a strike nearly 50% more often. Fried will probably test him with a low curveball. Bregman won’t bite.
This is the critical point of the at-bat, 1-1, and it will come down to nerves. Fried has a slow, nasty curveball that loops down and in toward right-handed hitters. Bregman has an uppercut swing and the short, 315-foot left field.
Fried will steady himself. In game 5 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, just days ago, he was hammered for five runs in four innings in what turned into an 11-2 rout that could have shifted the momentum of the Series.
It was a shockingly bad performance for Fried, comparable in tragic magnitude perhaps only to Yom Kippur 2019, when Fried, brought on in relief, gave up a flood of runs to the otherwise mediocre St. Louis Cardinals, who took the game and the Series 13-1.
Alex Bregman also played on Yom Kippur, going 0-4 in a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. The Astros would go on to World Series, where Bregman would slump to a dreary .207 batting average and miss a title by a hair. Just saying.
The numbers will tell you that in 2021, the count will probably go to 3-1 against the patient Bregman before he hits something into center field, probably a flyout, nothing Altuve could advance on—but also possibly a home run.
The slumping 8- and 9-spot hitters for the Astros will be the final two outs of the second inning, so when Fried and Bregman meet again in the third inning, it will be under similar circumstances, with one out and a man on first. Between the two plate appearances, accounting for Fried’s improvement the second time through the lineup, it’s about 50/50 that Bregman, who is about as good a hitter as Fried is a pitcher, will get on base at least once in game 2, especially if he gets to face him again in the 6th.
On the whole, balancing the odds of a game six start with the odds of Fried going four or so innings with the odds of Atlanta being down in the Series and quicker to go to their bullpen, the most likely number of times that Fried and Bregman will see each other over the course of the Series is five—three in game 2, two in game 6. Combining Fried’s opponent average against hitters like Bregman, and Bregman’s average against pitchers like Fried, that will most likely result in a single to left, a walk, a groundout, and two flyouts induced by Fried’s vicious curve. Taking into account both Bregman’s position in the order (behind Altuve and ahead of sluggers Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez) and his particularly excellent WRC+ (a measure of run creation), this will sum to a respectable one RBI and one run.
But probabilities get fuzzy on this kind of scale. Metrics like ERA and batting average are meant to work over the course of a long season, with lots of time for outliers to get reabsorbed into the mean. So, over the course of five plate appearances, anything could happen, especially considering that Max Fried has been unpredictable this season—a bad start, followed by a resurgence, a dip, and then an impeccable finish, followed shortly afterward by his NLCS disaster. A 14-7 record and a 3.04 ERA mask a wildly varying output.
What the numbers won’t tell you is that after his infamous 2019 meltdown, Max Fried hasn’t played on a single Jewish holiday this year. He left the game before sundown on Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, and Rosh Hashana, giving up just two earned runs in 19 innings played pre-Yom Tov. Though there were times it seems to have made sense to put him in, he sat out—while Bregman, in what can be fairly described as a statistically unlikely occurrence, has played on almost every single holiday this year—and furiously. After going 2-4 on the second day of Shavuot, he was stricken with a quadriceps injury that forced him out for a game against the White Sox on Tisha B’Av.
Upon his return, ignoring the possible warning from on high, Bregman went wild on Jewish holidays. He hit .357 from Tisha B’Av to Yom Kippur and slugged .529. Over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, while Fried sat devoutly on the bench, he went 6-11 with eight RBIs. But then, immediately after Yom Kippur, Bregman crashed. His batting average plunged to a dismal .113 and stayed there.
Meanwhile, Max Fried emerged a few days after Kol Nidre and calmly pitched seven scoreless innings to the San Francisco Giants, the best team in baseball. A few days after that, he pitched a three-hit shutout to the San Diego Padres, and then after sitting out Shemini Atzeret, gave up one earned run over seven innings to the Phillies.
So what does all this mean? Personally speaking, I’d like to see Alex Bregman send a Max Fried fastball over the low left-field wall on Wednesday night and lead the Astros to triumph. The Astros are an excellent team who have led an excellent season and deserve a championship unmarred by cheating. They’ll most likely go up an easy 3-2 and come back to Houston for a potentially decisive game 6.
And then, on Nov. 2, Max Fried can read about Yaakov and Esau before taking the mound, winding up, and blowing a fastball past Alex Bregman, right down the middle, with late-inning defensive replacement Garrett Stubbs behind the plate for the Astros, before Joc Pederson, the Braves own Jewish slugger, adorned in the classic old Jewish lady pearl necklace that has become his trademark, hits a historic moon-shot out of Minute Maid Park, sending the Series to a truly decisive game 7—which is what all true baseball fans yearn for.
Benjamin Samuels is the editor of Bard High School’s samizdat newspaper, The Underground.
Jack Azoulay-Haron is a baseball podcaster and researcher whose work can be found at The Fans Magazine.