Every season, it seems as though some fielder just appears from thin air, as if created to fill a void we didn’t even know existed. A pair of Kevins—one, Kevin Kiermaier, well publicized; the other, until roughly this week, still fairly anonymous—filled this gap in 2015. The Kevins ran down flyballs and popups and crashed into walls, as in the first result to a Google of “Kevin Pillar catches”:
This video is taken from when Pillar was just a wall-climbing left fielder projected as a useful fourth-outfielder type. It displays all the classic characteristics of the standard Pillar highlight, however, fully into maturity while the season was just in its infancy—the ability to run full speed, calculate distance and height and trajectory, and make a stunning catch. SN590’s Joe Siddall declared Pillar “a human highlight reel” in words that now seem prophetic.
Pillar made another one of his highlight-reel catches the Blue Jays' 11-8 win over the Royals, setting the tone in the first inning with a steal of a double from the bat of Lorenzo Cain:
This isn’t the best of his “run-into-the-wall” plays, though his adjustment to the flight of the ball is to be commended. The Royals already had a lead, and Pillar’s play helped get Marcus Stroman out of the inning and give the Blue Jays bats a chance to reassert themselves in the game and series. They scored three in the bottom of the first. This was, then, arguably a tone-setter.
Pillar's been quietly setting the tone all season: The Blue Jays have, the whole world knows, the league's best offense, but about one tiny subdivision of the world knows they also had the league's best defensive efficiency (and, by DRS, the AL's third-best defense). "Here we go again," one thinks whenever the Blue Jays score 11 to beat a quality opponent. But "here we go again" is the appropriate response, too, when Pillar or the Blue Jays defense change the game with exceptional play.
Pillar crosses 94 feet to snag a sinking Josh Hamilton fly ball off the carpet of the Rogers Centre, rolling over a few times post-catch just to let the point sink in. This catch is visually enthralling. It's also, arguably, his most overrated catch of the postseason: Seeing where Tulowitzki pulls up, it's not unimaginable that we would have caught it, calling into question Harold Reynolds’ assertion that “if he doesn’t get to that ball, nobody gets to it.” (Calling into question Harold Reynolds.) The announcers do mention that Pillar is playing an extra step in, due to Stroman’s presence on the mound, but a late break counteracts that measure a bit, meaning that despite the dive, it’s not nearly his most impressive of the postseason.
The second genre of Pillar Catch sees him running into right field:
Though Pillar is only listed as having played three games in right field during the 2015 regular season, he actually spent enough time there to run for a right-field congressional seat.
But the most convincing Pillar Moments usually see him tangling with the wall:
As it turns out, between the three we get an excellent overview of all of Pillar’s styles of catches: The sliding grab, the wall faceplant, and the excellent positioning and speed result. This one, the wall faceplant, is both amusing and educational, and arguably the best technical catch. While Pillar does run into the wall, he does so gently, having calculated how far he can go without putting on the brakes. He gets a good jump on the ball, making his gentle face plant more possible. This approach to the catch is what you want to see in a good defensive center fielder—an awareness of his position on the field, the flight of the ball, any potential obstacles (especially the wall, and each park's quirks and obstacles built into center field and the gaps) with the speed to get to a ball hit back over his head. Not only does Pillar have to range back on this, but he had to make a well-timed hop to catch the ball over his head and keep it from bouncing off the padding 400 feet from home plate.
(Pillar also has a respectable arm and good aim, registering 10 outfield assists across the 2015 season, good for a tie for 11th in the majors.)
No matter the outcome of the series, now two games to one in favor of the Royals, at least Jays fans, and fans of baseball in general, have gotten to see what a +22 (by DRS) center fielder looks like, and what his name is.
Thanks to @philmoscovitch for identifying Joe Siddall’s voice.
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