Buffalo Bisons outfielder Kevin Pillar knows all about hitting streaks. Pillar’s resume includes a whopping 54-gamer at Cal State-Dominguez Hills in 2010 that set an NCAA Division II record, so being at 21 games isn’t going to faze him.
Nonetheless, this is Triple-A baseball and running a streak past 20 games doesn’t happen very often. Pillar did just that with a fifth-inning single to left in the Herd’s 4-2 loss to Norfolk Thursday before 9,061 in Coca-Cola Field.
It’s only the fourth time in the Bisons’ 30-season modern era that a streak has hit 21. Pillar is tied with former standout shortstop Jolbert Cabrera (1998), and the only players ahead of them are outfielders Alex Ramirez (28 games in ’98) and Ben Francisco (25 games in 2006).
“I don’t look too much into it honestly,” said Pillar, 25. “I think it’s something cool for the fans to be a part of, but we’re really just trying to win games. I know with where I’m at in the lineup, my job is to get on base and drive in runs and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Pillar, who went 1 for 4 Thursday, is batting .384 during the streak and has a .327 average for the season that puts him third in the International League batting race. He leads the league with 36 doubles and is on pace to tie Jhonny Peralta’s club mark of 44 set in 2004.
“You almost expect too much out of him some times,” said manager Gary Allenson. “I never had a 21-game hitting streak. I don’t think I even had one in Little League.”
Pillar has nine multi-hit games during the streak and rarely has he needed to go deep into games to extend it.
His consistency is clear: Pillar has hit safely in 32 of the last 34 games and also had an 18-gamer earlier this season, making him the first Bison to go 18 or more twice in their Buffalo career, let alone in one season.
“It’s very similar to what I always said when I was in the college streak: As hitters, we’re always trying to get hits,” Pillar said. “Nothing really changes. We’re going up there trying to get good pitches and hit the ball hard.”
Pillar has batted .225 over two trips to Toronto this year, and it will be interesting if he’ll make a third come Sept. 1. That’s because he was returned to Buffalo on June 25 after just two days at Rogers Centre – and following a dugout dustup with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
Gibbons pulled Pillar for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of a tie game against the New York Yankees and Pillar dropped his bat and tossed his gloves in disgust before heading down the tunnel. Gibbons reportedly aired him out in his office after the game and told him to get back to Buffalo.
“It didn’t help him at all,” Gibbons said the next day. “This is a team game, you know. There’s no room for selfish play.”
“I made a mistake. Emotions got the best of me in that very brief moment,” said Pillar, who has since exchanged texts with Gibbons. “He made a decision and here I am, just trying to get better as a player and person ... I lost my head. I definitely learned a lesson from it and it won’t happen again. You move on. Hopefully there’s a time down the road we can sit and talk.”
The Bisons have to move on from this series, which ended up as a four-game split with Buffalo dropping the last two. They entered Thursday 4½ games out of the North Division lead and 3½ out of the International League wild-card and now have just 18 games left.
Starter Raul Valdes (4-5) battled through five-plus innings on short rest but gave up two runs in the second and Buffalo never caught up. Andy LaRoche was the only player with two hits for the Bisons, who did not have Toronto star Edwin Encarnacion in their lineup after it was decided to end his injury rehab stint.
“We can still determine our own destiny,” said Allenson, whose team is 18-7 in its last 25 and only plays North foes the rest of the way. “Ask anybody if you’ll take 18 wins in a 25-game stretch and nobody is going to turn that down.”