ST. PETERSBURG -- Kevin Pillar was wearing a Superman T-shirt after Friday night's 8-4 victory over the Rays and it couldn't have been any more fitting considering he has been impersonating the comic book character in the outfield all year.
Toronto's center fielder came through with yet another spectacular grab in the series opener and this was pretty close to his best yet. With the score 8-4, Tampa Bay catcher Luke Maile appeared to have extra bases in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Pillar had other ideas. He ranged deep into the right-centre-field gap and sprawled out with a headfirst dive to take the hit away.
Pillar helped the Blue Jays stay in the top spot in the American League, which would mean home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Blue Jays and Royals are both 93-67 with two games remaining, but Toronto holds the tiebreaker over Kansas City.
For Pillar, it was the latest in what has become a string of sensational grabs. His best of the year also came against the Rays when he pulled off a Spiderman impression by climbing the wall at Rogers Centre to take a hit away from Tim Beckham on April 15.
"That was pretty good," Pillar couldn't help but admit with a big smile after the game. "When I did it, I thought it was a good catch. But then when 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. It's up there, it's up there."
Pillar was quick to point out that his primary motivation for the catch was wanting to get an additional out for starter Mark Buehrle, who was looking to become the fifth pitcher in Major League history to toss 200 innings in 15 consecutive seasons.
Buehrle ultimately fell just short of that goal with 6 2/3 innings that brought him to 198 on the season, but Toronto hasn't closed the door on the possibility of having the veteran lefty toss two more innings on Sunday to complete the task. Pillar's catch certainly played a role in getting Buehrle a little closer to the goal, but it should hardly come as a surprise because he has been stealing outs on a regular basis.
The 26-year-old will receive some consideration for a Gold Glove Award at the end of the season and rightfully so. According to Fangraphs, Pillar entered play on Friday ranked third in the American League among outfielders with 13 defensive runs saved. He trails only Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier (41) and Kansas city's Lorenzo Cain (18) in that category.
"I think to make a few catches here and there, yeah, but as many as he's made this year, no," Buehrle said when asked if he ever pitched with a center fielder like that behind him. "I had Aaron Rowand back in '05 for a couple years, but this guy goes out there and as soon as the ball's put in play, I love it when we're at home and the ball gets put in play in center field and you can hear the crowd.
"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. It's funny looking back at early in the year he was playing left field. He was kind of the fourth outfielder and got thrown in there because of [Michael] Saunders's injury. Baseball's a crazy game, and you've got to take advantage of it when you have the opportunity."