From the bat flip to the Braves, must-win thrillers fol­low At­lanta GM Alex An­thopou­los

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - Rob LONGLEY

AT­LANTA — As a base­ball man who has lived through one of the most iconic mo­ments in Toronto sports history, Braves gen­eral man­ager Alex An­thopou­los is pre­pared to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

The fifth and de­cid­ing game of the Braves open­ing-round series against the St. Louis Car­di­nals here on Wed­nes­day may not go bat-flip crazy to ri­val Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS, when An­thopou­los was GM of the Blue Jays.

But given the stage and the stakes — not to men­tion the dra­matic tugs back and forth thus far in the series — few would be shocked if Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS had it’s own sig­na­ture con­clu­sion.

“To me, that’s what sports is about, the mo­ments you never for­get,” An­thopou­los said in an in­ter­view with the Toronto Sun as the Braves pre­pared for their bid to end a nine-series post-season los­ing streak. “And nine times out of 10, those games and those mo­ments come in the play­offs. The two (de­cid­ing) Game 5s I’ve been in­volved in were both re­ally tight games, so you re­mem­ber the unique times in each.

“It’s go­ing to be fun and it’s go­ing to be a great at­mos­phere.”

If An­thopou­los feels ner­vous, it’s on a dif­fer­ent level than the game par­tic­i­pants in a cou­ple of key ways. Ef­fec­tively, once the July 31 trade dead­line passed, the bulk of his work for the 2019 Braves was done.

Sure, he con­fers reg­u­larly with field man­ager Brian Snitker and his man­age­ment group, but mostly the for­tunes are now in the hands of Snitker and play­ers such as Wed­nes­day’s starter, Mike Foltynewic­z, and po­si­tion play­ers such as Josh Don­ald­son, Ron­ald Acuna Jr. and Fred­die Free­man.

“Speak­ing for my­self — and a lot of other GMS I’ve talked to who feel the same way — when you’re in the mo­ment, mean­ing the post season, you al­ways think back to what more could you have done,” An­thopou­los said. “Could you have made an ex­tra move? Could you have added a lit­tle more?

“In my po­si­tion, you’re al­ways try­ing to bal­ance the short term and the long term, but while you are in the mid­dle of it, you’re al­ways fo­cused on win­ning that day and that series. It’s a bal­ance, but so much of the work has been done now.”

The pri­mary goals for An­thopou­los in his sec­ond year as Braves GM were to im­prove upon the 2018 playoff team and have a group bet­ter equipped for a more sus­tained run. Sign­ing Don­ald­son brought a key vet­eran with star power and sign­ing starter Dal­las Keuchel was in­tended to pro­vide a cor­ner­stone to the ro­ta­tion.

From that per­spec­tive, it was mis­sion ac­com­plished as the Braves topped the NL East with a 97-65 record.

“That’s why win­ning the divi­sion is so re­ward­ing, know­ing you did it over a long pe­riod, you’ve had suc­cess over six months or more,” An­thopou­los said.

Of course, this is not to say the Mon­treal na­tive isn’t in­tensely and emo­tion­ally in­vested on what will take place on Wed­nes­day at the Braves’ new park. He still has vivid mem­o­ries of the Rogers Cen­tre back on Oct. 14, 2015, and the ups and downs for­ever as­so­ci­ated with that epic win over the Texas Rangers.

Like many who wit­nessed it, An­thopou­los re­mem­bers al­most every­thing about the af­ter­math of Jose Bautista’s bat-flip blast to give the Jays the lead in the sev­enth in­ning.

“In our GM box when Bautista hit the home run, we all went crazy,” An­thopou­los said of a mo­ment that sent the live crowd of 49,742, a city and a coun­try into a sim­i­lar frenzy. “The fans and how loud they were, the en­ergy in that sta­dium and the ex­cite­ment when fi­nally the last out was made? It re­ally was amaz­ing.”

The sec­ond Game 5 win of An­thopou­los’ man­age­rial ca­reer was also thick in emo­tion and drama. As the as­sis­tant GM in Los An­ge­les in 2016, the Dodgers were in Wash­ing­ton for the one-game show­down and his team trailed 1-0 be­fore a 4-0 sev­enth in­ning turned the ta­ble. The Na­tion­als scored two in the bot­tom half of that sev­enth that took an hour and six min­utes to play.

The drama car­ried into the eighth when Dodgers ace Clay­ton Ker­shaw came in to get the fi­nal two outs just two days af­ter toss­ing 110 pitches in Game 4.

“If you were to ask me about the Wash­ing­ton-l.a. series and what hap­pened in games 1-2-3-4, some­what amaz­ingly I wouldn’t be able to tell you much,” An­thopou­los said. “But Game 5, I re­mem­ber al­most of it. It’s the sit­u­a­tion, with so much on the line, that you know you are go­ing to re­mem­ber it.”

An­thopou­los still ex­pects big things at Sun­trust Park on Wed­nes­day, al­though ob­vi­ously all with the Braves would have pre­ferred to have wrapped things up back in St. Louis in Mon­day’s Game 4, thus avoid­ing Car­di­nals ace Jack Fla­herty in the fi­nale.

But with the va­garies of play­offs base­ball in play, An­thopou­los has learned not to beat him­self up too se­verely when the bounces go awry.

“I was speak­ing to some­one the other day about (leg­endary Braves man­ager) Bobby Cox, who I be­lieve felt his best team was the 1996 team, one that didn’t win it all,” An­thopou­los said. “It wasn’t tak­ing any­thing away from that team, but he went to the play­offs and the World Series with so many and he felt that was his best one.

“I look at to Toronto and that 2015 team was a World Series-cal­i­bre team. Kansas City de­served to win, they were world class. But that Toronto team was as well. That’s what makes the play­offs great. A small play, an inch or two here or there or a big play like Bautista can change it all.”

In our GM box when Bautista hit the home run, we all went crazy.

alex an­thopou­los


Then-jays GM Alex An­thopou­los cel­e­brates with Jose Bautista af­ter Toronto’s Game 5 win in the 2015 ALDS.

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