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The Globe and Mail

Jays' Pillar atones for fielding mistake with winning hit

Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Kevin Pillar drives in the winning run in a 5-4 win over Minnesota Twins in the 10th inning at Rogers Centre.

Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports


That is a word you rarely hear in a testosterone-filled Major League Baseball clubhouse inhabited by high-priced professional athletes.

Making the moment even more unusual, the apology was uttered by Kevin Pillar, the Toronto Blue Jays spot-duty outfielder who had just stroked the winning hit in an exhilarating 5-4 walk-off win over the pesky Minnesota Twins on Monday night.

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As Toronto manager John Gibbons was passing through the clubhouse with his post-game chow, Pillar offered up his mea culpa, referencing a sinking liner stroked by Kurt Suzuki that Pillar felt he mishandled in the top of the ninth inning.

Gibbons waved Pillar off, saying don't worry about it, it is a play he would make nine out of 10 times.

Charging in believing he could make the game-ending catch with Toronto leading 4-2, Pillar dove at the last second but the ball scooted past and continued its merry way into left field.

Suzuki had a double and his hit scored a run that trimmed the Blue Jays lead to 4-3.

With Suzuki now in scoring position, Eduardo Escobar then lifted a little flare into shallow left that just eluded the outstretched glove of Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie and Minnesota had tied the game.

Pillar would not have to wait long for redemption.

In the bottom of the ninth he came to the plate with pinch-runner Erik Kratz perched at second base after a walk by Dioner Navarro and a single by Jose Reyes.

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Pillar then smacked a two-out single to right field that scored Kratz to win the game for the Blue Jays, snapping a mini two-game losing streak in the process.

"Baseball's a weird game where you get a chance to make up for a mistake you made maybe in the previous inning or early in the game," Pillar said. "I was fortunate enough to have that happen."

Pillar only subbed into the game in the bottom of the ninth inning for defensive purposes, replacing Melky Cabrera in left field, and he got involved real quick.

To be fair, Pillar was being a little hard on himself on the play that resulted in the first run. It wasn't even ruled an error.

"I guess that's the reason you don't dive in those situations because you see what it leads to," Pillar said. "The next hit barely gets out of the infield and scores a tying run."

Pillar said before the game, he received some words of wisdom from team star Jose Bautista after a chance meeting in the indoor batting cage.

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"It was kind of out of nowhere," Pillar said. "I was down there, maybe 10 minutes before the game and just taking some flips and he [Bautista] was in the cage next to me. And we just stopped hitting and had that conversation with me.

"He just looked at my swing and told me nothing's wrong with your swing. He just said, you're in a tough role and he explained he was in that role before and it took him some time in that role to get a chance to play everyday. And he just said prepare yourself throughout the game and when you get a chance go out there and be aggressive and just have good at bats and put yourself in the situation to help the team win."

The advice was followed and the result was another Toronto victory.

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