Center fielder runs into wall on great grab, dives headfirst to score go-ahead run
By Richard Justice
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays set a tone for the evening in the top of the first inning, when center fielder Kevin Pillar sprinted back, grabbed a Lorenzo Cain liner and slammed into the wall.
Pillar has made at least a dozen highlight-reel plays as good as the one he made Monday night in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. But given the circumstances, given the moment, this is one he might remember awhile.
If this was a statement game, the Blue Jays made the one they needed to make in an 11-8 victory over the Royals. Kansas City leads the best-of-seven series, 2-1. Game 4 is today (3 p.m. ET air time on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet, 4 p.m. game time).
The Blue Jays got booming home runs from Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Ryan Goins. They made hustle plays here, there and everywhere. They summoned a reliever, Robert Osuna, throwing 97-mph gas.
In the end, though, nothing reflected this team's confidence and determination more than Pillar. When teams have special seasons, they always look back and see some players doing more than projected them to do.
Toronto has gotten huge contributions from Pillar and Goins, who came through the system together and are close friends. Having hit near the top of the order all through the Minors, they now give the Blue Jays the deepest lineup in baseball.
And there's that attitude.
"You can control how hard you go out there and play," Pillar said. "I'm fearless -- maybe stupid at times. I'm out there to help my team win any way possible. I'll run through a wall for 'em. I'll run through a wall, run through anything to get outs."
The Blue Jays said over and over that an 0-2 hole hadn't shaken them. They were going to come back to Rogers Centre, where they won 25 of 33 down the stretch and feed off the energy of a roaring crowd of 49,751.
And they would be themselves.
"It's the same every single day in the clubhouse," Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman said. "And I truly mean that. I don't just say that just to say it. You could not tell in the clubhouse if we're down 0-2 or up 2-0. And I've never been part of a team like that. What we have is extremely special."
The Blue Jays led the Majors in runs and home runs. But at their best, they're so much more than just power. They play fast, and they play hard. They play with some swagger, too, the swagger of winning 43 of their final 61 regular-season games and three straight elimination games against the Rangers in the AL Division Series.
"We have a lot of confidence in the team that we have here," Donaldson said. "We feel like our lineup is second to none, and sooner or later, if we catch some breaks, we're going to score some runs."
Toronto trailed, 1-0, in the second inning and had runners on first and second with one out when Pillar beat out a potential double-play grounder. He then stole second and hustled home behind Tulowitzki on a Goins single.
Pillar dived headfirst toward home plate, twisted his body one way and slid his left hand the other to score the run that put the Blue Jays ahead to stay. They would lead, 9-2, after three innings and still have to hang on at the end as the Royals scored four runs in the ninth.
Maybe that's how this series is going to be. The Blue Jays pounded and pounded in the early innings. The Royals kept answering.
"You see the quality of team they have over there," Donaldson said. "They don't stop until the 27th out. They're tough. Tonight was just a step in the right direction."
Now about the confidence factor. Having survived a tough series against the Rangers, the Blue Jays say they weren't rattled by two losses in Kansas City.
"We don't change according to the series standings or the score," Pillar said. "We're a confident group. We feel like any day we can go out there and go off offensively."
This was one of those days, and he led the way.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.