Kevin Pillar was looking for redemption.
His previous at-bat had been a disaster. The hottest hitter in the International League tried to push home a run on a bunt. It didn’t work.
When he came up again in the ninth, with runners on first and second, Pillar got back to what he does best – drive the ball.
His triple to right field drove in two runs and gave the Buffalo Bisons a walk-off win in the ninth with a 6-5 decision over the Charlotte Knights at Coca-Cola Field.
The Bisons were trailing, 5-2 when they started to rally in the seventh. Darin Mastroianni singled, then scored on a triple from Ryan Goins.
That’s when Pillar stepped to the plate. On the first pitch, his bunt went back to the pitcher for an easy out, leaving Goins on third.
“I was trying to outsmart the game,” Pillar said. “We weren’t struggling, but it was a time when we could have used the extra run. It wasn’t a bad time for it, but the way I’ve been swinging the bat, I should have more confidence and swing there, especially with the infield back knowing a ground ball gets a run. But I was just trying to do too much.
“I had to really, really calm down. I was really upset after that at-bat and I took it out onto the field.”
Goins ended up scoring when Dan Johnson singled, cutting the lead to 5-4.
Manager Gary Allenson had a talk with Pillar, kept his confidence in him especially when the slugger came up in the ninth with two runners on and no outs.
“I had a little conversation with Kevin,” Allenson said. “He tried to push bunt there with the runner on third base, not too successfully. I asked him what he was thinking and he said, ‘That was the problem. I wasn’t thinking.’ I said you know what, that’s OK. Just be the hero in this inning.”
The ninth started with a single from Mastroianni. Goins had a perfect bunt up the third base side of the mound. Charlotte catcher Josh Phegley fielded the ball, but he lost his footing on the wet infield grass and had no play.
With runners on first and second and no outs, Pillar stepped to the plate.
“To make up for what I did the inning before,” Pillar said. Allenson “told me before I went up to be the hero. I was fortunate enough to get a good pitch.”
Pillar fouled off three pitches before he drove one deep to right field that bounced off the wall. He was credited with a triple while Mastroianni and Goins crossed the plate.
Pillar finished the game with two hits, extending his hitting streak to 15 games. With Rochester’s Chris Parmelee going hitless in the Red Wings win over Louisville, Pillar now has the longest active streak in the International League.
It is the longest streak for a Bisons player since outfielder Vinny Rottino hit in 20 straight games during the 2010 season.
“I think it all stems from confidence, but really it’s just getting back to what I did,” Pillar said. “Just making minor tweaks in my swing, getting off the plate a little bit, giving myself better plate discipline and really buying in to getting pitches to drive rather than get hits.
“When I try to get hits, I chase out of the zone a little bit more, thinking if I do this, maybe I can bloop it in here, but over the past two and half weeks plate discipline has been huge. Getting better pitches to hit and being super aggressive. If they’re going to throw me a fastball first pitch, I’m going to go get it.”
The ninth-inning hit capped a rally as the Bisons went in an early 3-0 hole. The Knights got all five of their runs off starter Ricky Romero, who gave up eight hits with four walks and three strikeouts in four innings.
The bullpen closed the door as Rob Rasmussen and Ryan Tepera combined to throw five hitless innings.