For Kevin Pillar, the hits just keep on coming
One, two, three …
It started in February, with a single through the left side of the infield in the eighth inning of a shutout loss to Concordia in the third game of the season.
“You never envision anything like this coming from that,” said Kevin Pillar, a junior outfielder at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Twenty-two, 23, 24 …
Five weeks later, with a school record on the radar, the mood was still relatively light in the dugout. Pillar and his teammates didn’t consider his hitting streak a taboo subject, as players involved in a developing no-hitter might.
In fact, when his only hit in a Toros-record 25th consecutive game was a prodigious, game-winning, eighth-inning home run off the net in center field, teammate David Fair had plenty to say.
“That’s kind of Hollywood right there,” he exclaimed in the dugout.
Thirty-three, 34, 35 …
The California Collegiate Athletic Assn. record fell without fanfare. Pillar didn’t know the single that stretched his hitting streak to 35 games last month was significant until Tom Weed, Dominguez Hills’ sports information director, told him.
It was then that Weed also informed Pillar of Nick Diyorio, who four years ago set an NCAA Division II record with a 49-game hitting streak for Southern University.
“Good luck with that,” Weed joked.
Forty-eight, 49, 50 …
After going hitless in his first three at-bats Saturday in the first game of a doubleheader against Cal State Stanislaus, Pillar tied the record with a sixth-inning double. He then broke it in his first at-bat in the second game with a double to right-center field, flashing a thumbs-up sign as he reached second base.
“There was a huge sigh of relief,” Pillar said.
Pillar isn’t ready to completely exhale, though.
After extending his streak to 51 games Sunday in the Toros’ regular-season finale, Pillar has in sight the NCAA all-divisions hitting streak of 60 games, set from 2001-03 by Damian Costantino of Salve Regina, a Division III school in Rhode Island.
Doing it this season would entail a deep postseason run by Dominguez Hills (37-16), which opens CCAA tournament play Thursday afternoon in Stockton against Cal State San Bernardino (29-15).
“It would mean we’re playing in the [Division II] College World Series,” said Pillar, a non-scholarship player who is hitting .386 with five home runs and 45 runs batted in.
A major league scout who has seen Pillar play this season said he considered the streak — even at the Division II level — impressive, though it isn’t necessarily a harbinger of future success.
Robin Ventura, who holds the NCAA Division I record with a 58-game hitting streak, forged a productive 16-year major league career. Costantino never played in a major league game.
Reserved and modest, Pillar hasn’t turned superstitious during his streak, though he has worn the same batting gloves — now nearly shredded by use — and “Beast Mode” T-shirt under his uniform. Most of the talking about his exploits is left to teammates.
“There are times we have to say, ‘Hey, Kev, you have a pretty good hitting streak going,’ and he would kind of laugh it off,” said Fair, a pitcher who is Pillar’s roommate. “It’s a lot more important to us than to him.”
It appeared Pillar’s streak might end at 47 games when he struck out in the seventh inning against UC San Diego. He was 0 for 3 to that point, and if the Toros went in order the rest of the way he wouldn’t come up to bat again.
But Dominguez Hills rallied with a couple of hits in the eighth inning and Pillar singled in the ninth.
“It’s not something I’ve just done individually,” Pillar said. “It’s been a team effort.”
Eight times, Pillar stepped to the plate needing a hit in his final at-bat to extend the streak. Eight times, he found a way.
“If he doesn’t get it in his first two at-bats,” first baseman Steve Carrillo said, “he makes that adjustment on the pitcher, and that’s why he’s been so successful.”
He also puts in hours of extra work in the batting cage, which Pillar calls his “lab.”
Coach Murphy Su’a said Pillar has superb hand-eye coordination and bat control, allowing him to make solid contact even on pitches out of the strike zone.
“They can try to throw around him, and he’ll put the bat on the ball,” Su’a said.
More records are on the horizon, but most of the pressure has dissipated.
“Hits are part of winning games,” Pillar said, “so I’m trying to get as many hits every game as I can.”