The Most Jewish World Series Ever?

The Most Jewish World Series Ever?

After struggling in Game 2 of the World Series, Max Fried paid homage to his childhood idol Sandy Koufax by throwing a four-hit gem in Game 6.

Max Fried #54 and Joc Pederson #22 are both 2021 World Series Champions.
Max Fried #54 and Joc Pederson #22 are both 2021 World Series Champions.

Heading into Game 6 of the World Series, it mattered little to Max Fried that he had been one of baseball’s elite hurlers since the All-Star break, winning his last seven decisions while posting a microscopic 1.55 ERA over his final fourteen starts. Or that he had been lights-out against the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2 of the NLDS and very effective against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of the NLCS. The slender twenty-seven-year-old southpaw was only focused on redeeming himself from his last two postseason clunkers, during which he yielded 11 runs and 15 hits over 9 2/3 frames.

Boy, did he ever.

Behind six innings of stud pitching from Fried, the Braves dusted off the heavily-maligned Houston Astros, 7-0, in the Game 6 clincher to capture the 117th edition of the Fall Classic and bring the championship-starved city of Atlanta its first World Series title since 1995. With a healthy balance of fastballs, sliders, and change-ups, Fried only allowed four insignificant hits without issuing a single walk to become the first Jewish pitcher to win a World Series game since Ken Holtzman’s six-hit gem in Game 4 of the ’74 Series.

Max Dorian Fried, nicknamed Maximus, is an American professional baseball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball.

“I just told myself that I was going to go out there and be 100 percent me and just try to pitch and try to win a ballgame,” Fried said after the most important night of his professional life. “Just kind of the same mentality that I had in the second half: just go out there and keep guys off-balance, just kind of pitch unorthodox and pitch with my eyes.”

On his seventy-fourth and final pitch of the evening, Fried, who grew up idolizing legendary Jewish pitcher Sandy Koufax and has drawn comparisons to a young Tom Glavine, fanned Houston shortstop Carlos Correa to end the sixth inning. In a postseason in which “bullpen games” and “openers” have remained fashionable, Fried’s seventy-four pitch effort (the longest by a Braves pitcher in the playoffs) was an anomaly. Houston had already trotted out four pitchers by the time Fried’s evening was finished.

Joc Pederson, #22, bats during Game 4 of the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers at Truist Park on Oct. 12. Photo by Adam Hagy for the Atlanta Braves

Fried’s ability to shut down the Houston lineup — one that had paced the majors in runs, hits, and batting average — was, quite simply, a Koufaxian performance that sparked comparisons to Glavine’s World Series Game 6 masterpiece twenty-six years earlier.

“If Max has a bad one, he’s more driven and really wants to get it done the next time out,” Atlanta’s indomitable closer Will Smith said afterwards. “He had this look on his face all day. He was nice and relaxed when he first got in the clubhouse today, but he was motivated, he was driven. He looked like a different Max, honestly.”

The night didn’t start well for the laid-back, unfailingly polite kid from Santa Monica. While trying to cover first on a dribbler hit to the right side by Houston’s Michael Brantley, Fried soon found his right ankle crunched by Brantley’s right — thank goodness, rubber — cleat. But more importantly, his failure to cover the bag resulted in an error and runners on first and second with no one out.

This could have been a déjà vu of a nightmare scenario for Atlanta, which lost its Game 1 starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, to a broken leg. But Fried would not be deterred from giving the Braves six strong frames. In perhaps the signature moment of his promising young career, Fried retired Houston’s vaunted 3-4-5 hitters — Correa, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel — to escape the jam unscathed. After freezing the AL batting champ Gurriel on a 98-mph heater (his fastest pitch of the season) for the final out of the first, the typically nondescript Fried flashed a rare burst of emotion, pumping his left fist and screaming on his way to the dugout.

“It hurt at first, but I got up and I knew I was good to keep going,” Fried said.
“When that [collision with Brantley] happened, I think he just locked in,” said Atlanta pitching coach Rick Kranitz following the clincher.

Fried coasted for the rest of the evening, inducing one weak grounder and lazy fly ball after another. While he wasn’t overly dominant (six strikeouts), Houston’s lineup hardly posed a threat. When the AL champs led off the third and fourth innings with singles, Fried methodically induced Brantley and Alvarez, respectively, to hit into rally-killing double plays. Over his final two innings of work, Fried was at his best, allowing only a Brantley infield single before punching-out the soon-to-be-free agent Correa for the second time.

Atlanta Braves become the 2021 World Series Champions.

Fried wasn’t Atlanta’s only star in the final game of a season that beautifully honored the legacies of franchise icons Hank Aaron and Phil Niekro. The Braves put up a crooked number early courtesy of moonshot homers from series MVP Jorge Soler and local boy Dansby Swanson, and later got an insurance solo homer from hit machine Freddie Freeman, playing in perhaps his final game for Atlanta. But the night belonged to Fried, who was able to exorcise his recent postseason demons (5.40 ERA in October) with a legacy-making performance that, at least for one evening, made Atlantans forget about Super Bowl LI, the Thrashers leaving town after a decade, and the Hawks’ half-century-long struggle to remain relevant.

For good measure, it seemed only fitting that the winning pitcher of the decisive game of a World Series that featured four Jewish players was one who grew up “fairly observant,” attending synagogue on the High Holy Days and celebrating a bar mitzvah.

read more: