Sports Pillar’s defensive heroics sometimes a leap of faith

22:00  09 may  2017
22:00  09 may  2017 Source:   thestar.com

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‘When you dive in the outfield . . . you’ve got to remember the times you’ve been successful.’.

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Ryan Goins and Marcus Stroman watched the sharp line drive zip out to centre field, the No. 11 on teammate Kevin Pillar’s back visible as he got a much-needed first step on hitter Jose Ramirez’s sixth-inning effort, tracking the ball from behind him before nabbing it in a last-gasp dive-and-grasp.

The shortstop and pitcher each thrust their hands up in the air, as if the Toronto Blue Jays’ in-house superman had just scored a touchdown. The play stranded Cleveland runners at first and third, helping lift the Jays to a 4-2 victory.

The fielding heroics aren’t new to Pillar’s game, but they still leave teammates and fans shaking their heads in awe. For the centre fielder, plays like that — which Cleveland manager Terry Francona called “game-changing” — are what Pillar expects of himself.

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“I just try to do my job. Go out there and make a play and help us win. It’s something, I guess, when I got home tonight I’ll go back and watch it a couple of times and celebrate in the privacy of my home and have my family tell me how great I am and enjoy it.”

Pillar played down the difficulty of the catching, saying he benefitted from the ball flying a little bit off to his side rather than directly behind him. Timing the dive is key — something he believes he learned through baseball but also playing other sports like basketball or football — as is having the confidence to make the catch.

“When you dive in the outfield, you make mistakes out there, you can’t think about the times you’ve missed,” he said. “You’ve got to remember the times you’ve been successful. When you leave your feet you’ve got to be confident that you’ll make a play. Because right there, probably both runners score, he’s probably at third base, but that’s not what I’m thinking about, I’m thinking about catching the ball.”

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Kevin Pillar makes a spectacular diving catch on a Jose Ramirez drive to centre field. © Steve Russell Kevin Pillar makes a spectacular diving catch on a Jose Ramirez drive to centre field.

One person who doesn’t expect mistakes defensive mistakes from Pillar is manager John Gibbons.

“But you really kind of grow to expect that. Take it for granted a little bit. That’s kind of a shame. It’s almost like if he doesn’t catch it you go, what’s wrong with him?”

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