Baseball games are complex events whose outcomes hinge on scores of interlocking factors, many of them invisible to the naked eye. Writers probably shouldn’t be making sweeping off-hand claims about the inner and outer workings of Almighty God. All true.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the three MLB playoff games that unfolded during Yom Kippur and involved notable Jewish stars who had to decide whether to play or not.
Cardinals 13, Braves 1: Max Fried, who once told the Atlanta Jewish Times that he’d consider sitting out a hypothetical scheduled start on Yom Kippur, faced the unenviable task of relieving a starting pitcher who’d allowed four runs while retiring just a single batter—in a decisive game 5 in the NLDS, no less.
Fried didn’t make the most of it: When he left the game at the end of the second inning, the contemptible Atlanta Braves trailed the visitors 11-0. Ten of those runs came during an explosive first inning, the highest-scoring opening frame in postseason history.
Unfortunately, it was the St. Louis Cardinals who meted out this historic and humiliating beatdown, but I guess if you’re the kind of decent person who hates both teams then the best possible outcome here was a loss pathetic enough to potentially define either franchise for the next decade, which is precisely what this was. The Braves allowed 10 runs in the opening inning of an NLDS game 5 at home. This is their identity now. This stain can never be washed away.
Nationals 7, Dodgers 3 (10): In the single greatest event in human history, the Washington Nationals slew the dybbuk of Yom Kippurs past to seal a Washington baseball team’s first postseason series victory since 1924: The last time the Nats played an extra-inning playoff game that began on the 10th of Tishrei, it ended several hours into the 11th of Tishrei, in a notorious 18-inning loss to the Giants.
In a series of events that must seem equally unreal to baseball fans on opposite coasts, the Nats overcame a roughly 10% win probability a third of the way into the 7th inning by homering on back-to-back sliders from multiple Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw—the latter of these pitches ending in the longest dinger of 20-year-old folk hero Juan Soto’s young career. Howie Kendrick—an ex-Dodger who looked like he could barely play baseball for long stretches of this series—and indeed this very game, in which he hit into a ghastly double play at about the worst moment possible—mashed a 10th-inning grand slam, which is the kind of thing the Washington Nationals just never, ever do, because the Baseball Gods or the Actual God have different plans for us. Not this morning, though.
Way back in the first inning of this one, Joc Pederson, half of the only all-Jewish bracket in Home Run Derby history earlier this season, hit an apparent home run to left field. Thanks to a possible assist from some remnant of the ruach gedolah from the book of Jonah, the ball fell a little short of paydirt, threading this weird window-thing in the outfield fence, rendering Pederson’s lead-off dinger a ground-rule double. This didn’t end up mattering, since Pederson would score on a Max Muncy two-run homer later in the inning. Still, it’s a strange baseball thing that happened to a Jewish player who played on Yom Kippur, so we’re obligated to mention it.
As Sandy Koufax’s old team, the Dodgers, maybe, should have known better. Joc Pederson’s 2019 Dodgers now own a dubious record: At 106, they had the most wins of any team that’s ever failed to get out of the divisional round of the playoffs.
Rays 4, Astros 1: Could that dubious record survive even a mere two days? Alex Bregman, former bar mitzvah boy and current star of the 107-win Astros, tallied a single and a strikeout in a losing effort on Kol Nidre night—which was respectable enough, if you ignore that the putative World Series favorites are now a game away from elimination, and that future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander lost a playoff game to a freakin’ relief pitcher.
Look, it’s a theological stretch to claim that there’s some kind of Koufax curse at work here whereby Hashem punishes teams whose star Jewish players don’t sit out on Yom Kippur. That would be an absurd and completely nondisprovable thing to assert.
What about all the Jewish players who play on Shabbat (i.e., also all of them), which is technically more important than Yom Kippur? Why does it make any sense whatsoever for any omniscient metaphysical being to even care about baseball, instead of a zillion other more urgent things to which that being seems puzzlingly and frustratingly indifferent? Why would Yom Kippur observance be the determinative factor in a baseball game? Surely Hashem isn’t that petty.
But consider this: Any one of these outcomes would have been an unlikely event. Two of them? Preposterous. Three of them? On Yom Kippur? What do you wanna bet that it’s not the hand of an angry God?
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Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.