Kevin Pillar: Mets Folk Hero Who Was Hit In the Face With A Fastball & Returned Ten Days Later (2021)
In 2011 he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 32nd round of the MLB draft. In his first pro season, he won the Appalachian League batting title & was an All Star. Over the next two years he led the organization in stolen bases & hits, becoming one of the Jays top prospects.At AA ball, his coach, one time Met Richie Hebner, said he was the best player in the league, he was known for his fielding & accurate throwing arm.
Pillar was leading the Eastern league in hits when he was promoted to AAA. He got called up for
36 games in 2013, making his MLB debut on August 14th in a 4-3 win over Boston.
He began 2014 with the AAA Buffalo Bison's, he led the league in doubles, batted .323 (third in the league) was 5th in slugging % & stolen bases & was tenth in HRs. He was first brought back up to Toronto in May & then sent down in June, while returning in late August.
Pillar would spend parts of seven seasons with Toronto, becoming their regular by 2015. That year he was named the Wilson defensive player of the year for centerfield, as well as a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. Pillar became known as an outstanding defensive outfielder, making many spectacular catches through out the year.
His heroics began early on, when on April 15t, he scaled the wall robbing Tim Beckham of a HR, in what Pillar called " a life changing moment". The catch made all the highlight reels & was voted play of the year by the Jays fans.
Pillar stole 25 bases (5th most in the AL) as he led in the league in games played (158) & put outs in center (440).
On the season he batted .278 with 12 HRs 31 doubles & 56
RBIs. Pillar would hit 30 or more doubles for five straight season.
2015 Post Season: That year he made his first post season, batting .333 with seven hits & a pair of a doubles, in the ALDS vs. the Texas Rangers. In Game #4 he hit a 2nd inning HR & added a two run single in the 3rd, helping the Jays to an 8-4 win. Pillar drove in two runs & stole two bases, while batting .238 in the ALCS loss to the Kansas City Royals.
In 2016 he was ranked #1 among centerfielders with 21 defensive runs saved & led all MLB centerfielders in defensive value according to fangraphs. He once again was a finalist for the Gold Glove but did not win it.
That year, the Jays won the Wild Card game, then beat Texas again in the ALDS. Pillar batted just .083 going 1-12 with his only hit being a HR in the Jays Game #2 win. He struggled in the ALCS loss to the Cleveland Indians, batting 0.63 with an RBI.
In 2017, he was the cover athlete for the Canadian version of R.B.I. Baseball '17. He worked on his hitting & became the teams lead off batter. On May 14th, he hit a walk off HR off the Mariners, Edwin Diaz, his future Mets teammate. In center, he led the AL in fielding % (.997%).
The next season he signed a one year deal, he led the team in batting (.252) stolen bases (14) & a career high 40 doubles. On March 31st, he became the first Blue Jay to steal three bases in one inning, it came against the AL New York team.
On July 1st, he stole another HR, leaping up the wall to make the
grab, which was voted the #2 catch of the year by the MLB network.
In the Covid19 shortened 2020 season, Pillar played 30 games with the Boston Red Sox & 24 games with the Colorado Rockies, where he hit .308.
Mets Career: On February 21st, 2021, Pillar signed a one year deal with the New York Mets. He got the Opening Day start in centerfield while batting lead off. He singled in the 8th inning & scored his first Mets run on a Michael Conforto base hit. The next day he walked & scored a run as a pinch hitter in the Mets 8-4 win at Philadelphia.
With the Mets suffering injuries, Pillar & others got to see more playing time. Along with good pitching, this bunch of Mets, even though they were not all hitting early on, got the Mets into first place in the first few months of the 2021 season.
On May 5th, he drove in two runs with a a pair of hits, including an RBI double in a 7-2 Mets win
at St. Louis. On May 12th, he had another two RBI day, with a triple in the Mets 7-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
On May 2nd, back in Philadelphia, he hit an 8th inning HR while helping the Mets in a 8-7 comeback victory. The next day he homered again, this time off the Cards Adam Wainwright, in a 6-5 loss in St. Louis.
On May 17th, in Atlanta, Pillar was struck in the face with a 94 mph fastball from pitcher Jacob Webb. Pillar fell to the ground & blood was seen pouring out of his nose in a horrific scene. The game stopped as all players looked on in horror & fear of what the outcome might be.
In this modern day of over exposure & way too many replays, the Pillar incident was shown just one (to my recollection) on the night of the broadcast.
Pillar walked off the field, to a nice ovation from the crowd & the players. When he was hit by the
pitch, the bases were loaded & the run scored turned out to be the game winner.
Pillar posted after the game: thanks to everyone that has reached out! Scary moment but I'm doing fine! #RBI#gamewinner.
He suffered multiple nasal fractures & left the team to have surgery. But Pillar is certainly a gammer & one tough athlete. He returned ten days later, wearing a protective mask to shield the nose & a protective flap on his batting helmet.
On May 31st in Arizona, he made his triumphant return in a 6-2 Mets win, as he came into the game late as a replacement. When he came to bat his team mates cheered for him & applauded. Pillar answered with a base hit, delighting everyone, as a new folk hero was born in Mets lore.
Quotes- Pete Alonso: The Dude's just a warrior. His attitude & how he approaches the game is really special. He’s a great guy to have in our clubhouse. He’s such a great dude and it’s simple as that. I have nothing but respect. He plays the game hard, he plays the game the right way, and he has so much respect not just for the game but for every single one of us in the locker room.”
“The thing I
pride myself on the most is being available, and it was important for me to get back as soon as possible,” Pillar said. “Considering everything that’s going on with this team right now and just make myself available.”