ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Seeing another ridiculous Kevin Pillar catch with his own eyes wasn’t enough. Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki looked into the Tampa Bay Rays’ dugout and knew how much of a wow factor it had for opponents.
“They’re just in disbelief,” Tulowitzki said. “When you can awe people in a big-league field, you know you’re doing something special. Kev can do that on a daily basis.”
After making more than a few highlight-reel jaw-dropping catches as the Blue Jays’ centre fielder, Pillar added another clip Friday night when he sprinted, jumped and leapt full extension in right-centre to make a stunning grab in the seventh inning of an 8-4 victory against the Rays.
Asked to rank that catch among others in his career, Pillar conceded, “That was pretty good.”
“When I did it, I thought it was a good catch and I came back in and got a chance to see it and didn’t realize how much ground I covered and how far I went to get it,” he said. “It’s up there.”
Pillar is having a Gold Glove-calibre season, along with Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays. As many runs as the Blue Jays’ monstrous lineup can drive in, Pillar has saved plenty with his defence.
“That’s why it’s vital on winning teams you have to have a good centre fielder because they take away hits,” manager John Gibbons. “He’s had as good a year as some of the other guys have that have been the focus.”
Rays catcher Luke Maile almost couldn’t have hit the ball to a better spot in the outfield than he did with one out in the seventh. Pillar getting to that ball put an ear-to-earn grin on pitcher Mark Buehrle’s face.
In Buehrle’s career, no catch will ever live up to the one DeWayne Wise made to preserve his perfect game in 2009. But the veteran lefty is glad to have Pillar behind him at such a critical position.
“I love it when we’re at home and the ball gets put in play in centre field and you can hear the crowd,” Buehrle said. “They anticipate something good’s going to happen whether he’s standing up or not. This guy’s unbelievable. He gets good reads on it.”
Pillar works on reading fly balls every day during batting practice, so his prowess in that area is no accident. Under the dome at Tropicana Field he has to change his approach to not put his head down, but his thought process is the same no matter where he’s patrolling the outfield.
“It just comes back to being an athlete, playing all the sports growing up,” Pillar said. “I treat the outfield like running routes as a receiver. Right off the crack of the bat, you have that split second to determine where you think the ball is going to go and you just try to take the best angle possible.”
Pillar rarely makes the wrong read or takes a longer route than possible. But it’s not his raw speed that impresses Gibbons but Pillar’s baseball smarts.
“He’s fast, but he’s not your typical centre fielder-type runner,” Gibbons said. “He’s so good at getting his first jump. His instincts are so good, he’s second to none.”
Follow @SWhyno on Twitter
Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press