Mets outfielder Kevin Pillar has been sporting a special face guard since returning to the lineup after taking a pitch to the face against the Atlanta Braves last month.
The chilling scene left many wondering whether Pillar might ever play again, let alone as soon as he did. In fact, the journeyman not only made his impressive comeback in amazingly speedy fashion, but he has continued to play with the energy that has been one of his trademarks throughout his career.
On Friday night, still a bit bruised and swollen, and wearing the aforementioned protective gear, Pillar sparked the Mets' lone run-scoring rally of the night against a tough San Diego Padres pitching staff.
Leading off the fifth inning, the 32-year-old turned on a Blake Snell offering and gave it a good ride toward the left-field line, where the ball was hurriedly pursued by Padres left fielder Tommy Pham. Pillar, busting it out of the box on contact, seemed to be thinking double all the way, and with Pham's momentum carrying him toward the line, he pressed the issue, setting up a potential bang-bang play at second base.
Pillar dove into second headlong -- exposing his already injured kisser to a potential errant throw or misplaced slap tag from an infielder. Instead, he avoided a potential tagout by San Diego's Ha-Seong Kim with a nifty swim move on his dive. The electrifying leadoff double brought the Citi Field faithful to its feet, and the Mets' 3-run rally was on its way.
Pillar, whose calling card throughout his career has been his defensive prowess in center field, was similarly brave to lay out on a sinking line drive in a game against the Orioles in Baltimore last week.
Whether you see Pillar potentially risking his well-being so soon after his catastrophic injury as brave or reckless, is a matter of interpretation. But his quick return from the IL and apparently seamless reentry into the lineup while preserving his all-out style has been a fascinating development, particularly for a guy who was signed as a reserve and wasn't supposed to play this much.
Pillar's still probably not an everyday player for the Mets once they're at full strength, but he's authored a memorable run with his devastating setback and inspirational return, one Mets fans certainly appreciate and won't soon forget.