Adversity doesn’t begin to cover what the Mets endured in Monday night’s 3-1 victory over Atlanta at Truist Park.
The Mets already knew adversity. Twelve players on the injured list before Taijuan Walker even threw his first pitch — including two in Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil who were added only a few hours earlier.
Then Walker himself had to exit after only three innings because of what suddenly has become an epidemic of sorts among the 2021 Mets: "side tightness."
More head-shaking. More adversity. What in the name of Ray Ramirez was going on here?
But all of those troubles soon were put into perspective by a truly horrifying incident in the seventh inning, when Kevin Pillar was hit in the face by a 95-mph fastball thrown by Atlanta reliever Jacob Webb.
As if the shocking impact wasn’t frightening enough — Pillar instantly crumpled to the ground, lying face down — the sight of blood gushing from his nose as he tried to lift his head froze the other players in their tracks.
James McCann witnessed the scene unfold from third base, and though he was forced home to score on the play, his feet wouldn’t go in that direction. The only people even moving were trainers and those with towels rushing to Pillar. All anyone else could do was pray.
"It was real scary," McCann said. "Everything kind of stops for a second. He gets hit by a pitch and the last thing on my mind is going to touch the plate."
The dazed McCann wandered over to Atlanta catcher Jeff Mathis to ask him what he saw, where the ball may have struck Pillar, hoping it was more of a glancing blow. As for Webb, he stayed crouched by the mound, watching Pillar through watery eyes, wounded mentally by what he had just done. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker removed him moments later.
"That’s about as sickening a thing as you can see on a baseball field, when a kid gets hit like that," Snitker said.
Don’t toss what happened to Pillar in with the rest of the Mets’ tough-luck injuries, the hamstring strains and stretched lat muscles. Those are unfortunate. Breaks of the game. Pillar’s calamity was next level: life-and-death, potentially career-threatening. The entire list of terrifying stuff flashes through everyone’s mind in that instant.
Incredibly, Pillar eventually climbed to his feet — an encouraging sign — as he was helped off the field. The grounds crew rushed to scrub the area where he had been stretched out alongside the batter’s box. That’s how much blood Pillar lost with his face in the dirt.
"It was devastating," Tomas Nido said. "I was sick to my stomach. The guy goes out there and grinds every day, gives 100%. To have something like that happen to a guy who puts it all on the line on a day-to-day basis, that hurts."
McCann mentioned that he saw Pillar walking around in the clubhouse afterward, but the outfielder spent Monday night in a local hospital. He was expected to undergo a number of tests, including a CT scan, according to manager Luis Rojas.
"It’s just really tough," a somber Rojas said. "This guy is a warrior. He shows up every day to play hard. You guys saw him — he got up on his feet and left. There’s no chance I thought he would be able to do that. That’s at least one positive."
This wasn’t the first time Pillar has been hit in the face by a pitch. In 2019, while playing for the Giants, Pillar was struck on the chin by a 97-mph fastball thrown by the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet. He finished the game, however, and after clearing the concussion protocols, was cleared to play the following day.
At the time, Pillar said the biggest challenge was returning to the batter’s box, but he shrugged off the beaning as a freak occurrence. Hopefully, the fact that he was responsive and mobile means he’ll be able to shake this one off in relatively short order, too.
In a tweet late Monday night, Pillar declared he was "fine" and included #gamewinner for the bases-loaded, go-ahead RBI he earned in the hardest of ways.
That was a great development. And everyone who witnessed it needed a little extra time to recover as well.
"Standing in the box, a normal person doesn’t realize how fast that ball is coming in there and how quick you have to react," McCann said. "That ball looked like it was chasing him. So it takes a second to get yourself locked back in and focus on the task at hand. You send your thoughts and prayers his way."
In Pillar’s case, they seem to have worked. And if he truly is OK, the Mets will be happy to go back to their usual adversity come Tuesday morning.
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