ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Kevin Pillar chased a drive deep into the left-centre gap and extended his arm above his head before leaping to make the catch and falling into the wall.
The high-scoring Toronto Blue Jays hit three home runs to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3 last night, but the centre-fielder’s defensive gem—robbing Steve Pearce of an extra-base hit in the eighth inning—was the highlight of the game.
“Does it get any better than that? But I’ve seen it before,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons.
“Nothing surprises me. He’s that good. . . .
“That’s how you win games,” Gibbons added. “Not only do you have to make plays but you have to take away hits.”
Josh Donaldson, Michael Saunders, and Josh Thole homered for the Jays.
R.A. Dickey (1-0) allowed three runs and six hits over five-plus innings while Pillar’s catch helped the bullpen prevent the Rays from rallying late.
“Right when I took my last step, I knew it was going to be a tough play, and I knew diving was out of the question; the wall was there,” Pillar noted.
“I think just athleticism and body awareness took over, and I was able to tip my head just in time” to avoid hitting the wall face-first.
“As soon as you have a moment of fear, you don’t make a play like that,” Pillar added.
“That’s what I’m out there to do; I’m out there to make plays,” he reasoned.
All three of Toronto’s home runs were hit off Drew Smyly, with Donaldson connecting for a solo shot in the fifth inning, Saunders delivering a two-run homer in the fourth, and Thole going deep on a third-inning drive that umpires initially ruled a double after a fan interfered by catching the ball before it reached the stands.
The call was reversed after a replay review—erasing a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead.
Roberto Osuna, the fifth Jays’ pitcher, worked a perfect ninth for his second save.
Smyly (0-1), limited to 12 starts a year ago when he spent much of the season on the disabled list due to left shoulder tendinitis, allowed five runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings.
“He just got beat up by the long ball,” noted Rays’ manager Kevin Cash.
The left-hander walked one and struck out five.
“I can’t let that happen, two home runs to two different lefties in the lineup,” Smyly stressed.
“They have enough hard-hitting righties,” he added. “I can’t let those lefties beat me.”
Troy Tulowitzki had a sacrifice fly after homering during the Jays’ 5-3 victory on opening day.
Elsewhere in the AL, Baltimore beat Minnesota 3-2, Texas nipped Seattle 3-2, and Chicago edged Oakland 4-3.
Houston at New York and Boston at Cleveland were postponed.