TORONTO -- When the Blue Jays were at their best en route to winning the American League East in 2015, their role players provided a boost on both sides of the ball.On Tuesday, those important contributions came from Kevin Pillar and Darwin Barney, who stole the show and provided several
TORONTO -- When the Blue Jays were at their best en route to winning the American League East in 2015, their role players provided a boost on both sides of the ball.
On Tuesday, those important contributions came from Kevin Pillar and Darwin Barney, who stole the show and provided several noteworthy plays in Toronto's 4-1 victory over the Yankees.
Looking as though the Blue Jays would once again have to rely on their heavily taxed bullpen in a seventh-inning deadlock, Pillar's two-out RBI single off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances gave Toronto the lead, then Barney followed it up with a two-run single.
Pillar said he simplified his approach against the hard-throwing Betances. Finishing the contest 1-for-2 with a walk, his team-leading fifth stolen base and a run scored, Pillar had his fingerprints all over the game.
"For me, that hit today was good," Pillar said about his sharply hit grounder off a 97-mph fastball. "I felt like my at-bats today would lead to something good. I was being selective. I was seeing pitches. I was in the zone, so that was a big moment for me."
Dubbed "Superman" by his teammates and fans for his incredible catches, the 27-year-old assisted starter J.A. Happ in the fourth with a spectacular catch on Austin Romine's gapper to right-center field. Happ waited at the top of the dugout steps to show his gratitude to the Blue Jays' defensive anchor immediately after the play. According to Statcast™, Pillar travelled 57 feet to make the highlight-reel catch, with a 97.8 percent route efficiency on the play. Pillar also reached a top speed of 18.6 MPH, with a first step of 0.23 seconds.
"I know how much they appreciate it," Pillar said about the headlong dive into the Rogers Centre turf. "They tell me all the time. I feel that's my job to go out and help this team. I haven't really been doing my part offensively; doing what I'm capable of doing. Last year, being part of the best offense in baseball, it was easy for me to go out there and focus on defense and do what I was supposed to do out there and make plays to help us win games."
The message was very much the same from Barney, who made a pair of stellar defensive plays in the infield and caught a ball in foul territory with a sliding grab of his own. Entering the year as Toronto's utility infielder, the 30-year-old has been thrust into an increased role with Troy Tulowitzki nursing a right quad strain.
"Coming into the season, offensively, you kind of know the role you're going to have and you try to prepare for that," said Barney, who has seen time this season at every infield position except first base. "Feeling better defensively being on the left side of the infield, that's been beneficial for me."
Barney's offensive contributions have also been a pleasant surprise, and the 2012 Gold Glove Award winner showed his emotion after his big hit in the seventh. Making a few slight mechanical changes and working on his mental focus, Barney won't predict any final numbers, but he is ready to contribute whenever he's called upon.
"I was always a guy that could swing the bat, and after having a couple of down years you get dubbed as a defensive-first player," said Barney, who finished his evening 1-for-3. "I went to work [in the offseason] trying to get back to who I was. Knowing the role I had here, I wanted to shorten up and just work on the mind and the guy you are walking up to the plate rather than your mechanics."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.