ATLANTA — Kevin Pillar sat on Zoom with a swollen and deformed nose, as well as bruising on that nose and under his eyes. He can’t see well out of his right eye and can’t breathe out of his nose.
Despite this, he said he feels as close to normal as possible. He doesn’t have a headache or any other symptoms. He considers himself lucky.
And he’s not even worried about himself.
“My face will heal,” Pillar said, “but my heart’s broken right now because this team is hurting right now.”
That quote is Pillar in a sentence. He said that, more than anything, he prides himself on being available to play every day. He’s a teammate first. The Mets need him right now — they’re dealing with a ton of injuries — and he feels like he let them down.
“I think at the end of my career, I hit .240, .250, whatever it is, I think if people talk about me as a guy that was reliable, was available and was tough as hell, that’s more than enough for me to ride off another sunset with,” Pillar said.
In the seventh inning of Monday night’s game, Atlanta reliever Jacob Webb drilled Pillar in the face with a 95 mph fastball. Pillar immediately went facedown on the dirt, his nose covered in blood — so much of it, in fact, that the grounds crew at Truist Park had to rush onto the field and clean it up before play resumed.
“My initial reaction was to get up and go to first base and, as I was on the ground, I was bleeding a lot and I knew that this wasn’t normal, that this was more than just getting hit in the face, that there’s a lot of blood and that there’s no way to get to first base,” Pillar said.
On Tuesday, Webb said: “I’m just thinking about him. I just injured the guy. It’s definitely tough moving forward, something you just got to get out of your mind.”
Pillar suffered multiple fractures in his nose. On Tuesday, he met with an Atlanta plastic surgeon who read his CT scan and X-rays, and told him the broken bones must be put back in place once the swelling goes down. The initial plan, he said, is this: After the Mets arrive back in New York following this road trip, Pillar on Monday will see a doctor to talk about when the surgery could be performed. Pillar was told he could resume baseball activity 10 to 14 days after surgery.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for him,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Pillar. “He’s a very professional, passionate player. A very good player. You hate to see that happen to anybody. I let him know I’m going to keep him in my prayers and hope he has a strong recovery.”
Pillar’s wife and two kids are back in California at his in-laws’ house. His wife saw it live and told Pillar’s parents, who are also on the West Coast but hadn’t yet seen it because they usually like to record the games and watch them later that night.
Over the last 24 hours, Pillar said he has received an outpouring of support. He estimated he has around 160 or 170 unread texts. He’s heard from old high school and college friends, former teammates, players on other teams and even a few players who are part of the “small being-hit-in-the-face-fraternity.”
Pillar and Webb’s conversation
Webb texted Pillar on Monday night and expressed how terrible he felt. The two exchanged texts while Pillar was at the hospital undergoing various tests. Then on Tuesday, Webb reached out to Pillar to see if the outfielder could meet him in the tunnel.
The two shook hands and hugged it out, Pillar said.
Of the exchange, Pillar said: “He reiterated that he felt terrible about what happened. I tried to reiterate that it’s part of the game, I know you didn’t mean to do it, and I just told him to continue to be confident and believe in his stuff because his stuff is good.”
After Webb hit Pillar, broadcast cameras caught the pitcher with a concerned look on his face. You could tell he felt awful about what had happened.
“It’s tough,” Webb said. “It’s tough mentally to absorb that.”
And the Mets know that.
Manager Luis Rojas said he had thought a lot about Webb since the incident and he hoped to speak to Webb before the game if possible. Pillar said he was “more worried about (Webb) than myself because I know I saw his reaction and I know how tough that can be on someone who feels responsible for someone getting injured.”
‘He’s a tough guy’
Hours before Tuesday’s game between the Mets and Braves, Marcus Stroman — Pillar’s teammate in Toronto, too — tweeted that Pillar walked into the clubhouse and asked, “Am I in the lineup today or what?”
Rojas wasn’t there for that, but he had a similar interaction with Pillar. The outfielder, Rojas said, told him: “If I could see a little better, I’d be fighting about me being in the lineup today.”
And he meant it.
“He’s a tough guy,” Rojas said. “I think the guys like that attitude around them. It’s been nice just to have this guy here in our clubhouse. Since the first day we had him in camp, I think he’s impacted a lot of guys, just with his way of being as a player but also his experience as a player.”
Another fitting example of Pillar’s toughness: Even with all the blood he shed and the fractures he suffered, he got up and walked off the field under his own power.
Rojas couldn’t believe it. The rest of the Mets, as well as the fans, were amazed.
The only one who wasn’t surprised: Pillar.
“That’s just how I was raised,” he said.
Justin Toscano is the Mets beat writer for NorthJersey.com.