Pillar followed up a spectacular catch in the outfield with a tiebreaking single and Barney drove in two before making his own highlight-reel play in the field to lead the Toronto Blue Jays past the New York Yankees 4-1 on Tuesday night.
“You hit your way to the big leagues,” said Barney, who is playing at shortstop after regular starter Troy Tulowitzki was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with a strained right quadriceps. “I was always a guy that could swing the bat and I had a couple of down years and you get kind of dubbed as a defence-first player and I went to work trying to get back to who I was.”
Justin Smoak had a home run in the fourth inning for the Blue Jays (28-26), who have back-to-back wins and have been victorious in six of their last seven.
J.A. Happ (6-2) earned a no-decision after giving up a run on four hits over six innings with four strikeouts. Joe Biagini and Jesse Chavez pitched a scoreless inning each before closer Roberto Osuna came on to earn his 12th save of the season. Biagini (3-1) earned the win as the pitcher of record when Pillar hit his RBI single.
Pillar, who improved to .246 with the single, is hitting well below his .278 average from last season. He believes that in the first few months of this season he’s been putting too much pressure on himself to perform at the plate.
“For me, that hit today was big,” said Pillar. “I kind of felt like my at-bats today were leading up to something good. I was being selective, I was seeing pitches, I was in the zone. That was a big moment for me.”
CC Sabathia (3-4) took the loss after giving up two runs on four hits and five strikeouts over six innings for New York (24-27). Dellin Betances and Kirby Yates came out of the bullpen for the Yankees.
Pillar brought the 33,419 in attendance to their feet with his highlight-reel diving catch in centre field to end the fourth inning. The standing ovation continued as Pillar trotted off the field and into the Toronto dugout. When he got there, starting pitcher Marcus Stroman made a show of dusting off his uniform.
“A ball like that that’s hit in the gap is a safer bet to go after, knowing there’s a guy behind you,” said Pillar. “It’s the one that’s hit right at me that I’ve got to be a little cautious in that type of game but knowing (right-fielder Jose) Bautista was back there it was easy for me to go out there and go get it.”
Smoak tied the game in the fourth inning with a solo shot to left-centre field, his fifth of the season.
Pillar again brought the crowd to its feet, driving Edwin Encarnacion in from second with a two-out single off Betances in the seventh inning for Toronto’s first lead of the game.
Barney tacked two more runs on to that, scoring Devon Travis and Pillar with another single to right field to make it 4-1.
Barney wasn’t done though. He ended the Yankees’ eighth inning, catching Carlos Beltran‘s foul ball by sliding into the retaining wall of the stands just past first base.
“I practise that without practising that, you know? When a guy hits a foul ball I try to pick a spot in the stands where I think it’s going to land and right off the bat there my read was it’s going to stay in play,” said Barney. “I honestly didn’t peek at the wall, I just tried to make a catch and trust my instinct on that one and luckily I didn’t blow my knee out or anything.”
Pillar’s fielding helped out Toronto again in the ninth, catching pinch hitter Brian McCann‘s long fly ball in right-centre field for Osuna’s second out of the inning. Pillar followed that up with an easier pop fly in left-centre field on Didi Gregorius to end the game.
Notes: Former closer Jason Grilli and cash considerations were acquired by Toronto in a trade with the Atlanta Braves earlier Tuesday. In return, Atlanta obtained right-hander Sean Ratclilffe, from Ajax, Ont., an 18th-round pick in 2013 who was 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in 22 games with Class-A Vancouver last year.