In a matchup of two of baseball's most spectacular defensive center fielders, the Toronto Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar got an early leg up on Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays for this season's Gold Glove.
After Kiermaier took home the Platinum Glove—awarded to the best of each league's Gold Glove winners—in 2015, Pillar risked life and head for a crucial out in his team's 5-3 victory on Monday.
He robbed Steve Pearce of an extra-base hit, crashing head-first into the outfield wall in the process.
In the replay, one can tell Pillar fortunately was able to turn his head just slightly at the last moment to limit the damage.
“I gotta be honest with you, I’ve seen it before,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “You just hope he don’t break his neck. (But) Kev got into pro baseball playing the game one way. That’s not going to change.”
"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 said. "I think just athleticism and body awareness took over and I was able to tuck my head just in the right time and I’m just happy to be alive.”
Kiermaier just missed a brilliant catch of his own, almost robbing Michael Saunders of a two-run homer in fourth inning. The two center fielders were introduced by David Price last year and maintain a friendly rivalry.
“Every time we play against them I take it personal against him and try to raise the bar and I know he’s trying to do the same thing,” Pillar said. “He’s probably fairly pissed off about not making that play.”
Despite his ridiculous coverage in center, it'll take a lot for Pillar to knock Kiermaier off his Gold Glove perch. The Rays outfielder set a record for Defensive Runs Saved at any position in baseball history last season, with 42. Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, now with the Angels, was second last year with 25.
Among center fielders, Pillar was third in DRS with 14, behind Lorenzo Cain's 18.