If the Blue Jays are going to continue as a first-place team — and they are giving every indication of that right now — then part of the anatomy of their performance will come from moments like the one between Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista before Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins.

The rookie and the two-time American League home run king were down in the batting cage prior to the tilt, a game in which the Jays would squander a two-run lead in the ninth only to rally for a 5-4 victory on Pillar’s game-winning single in the bottom of the inning.

While Bautista was looking at Pillar’s swing, he was talking about roles and presence on a winning team. Pillar is fighting on a daily basis to stay in the big leagues and to make a sound enough impression to be part of the Jays’ story for years to come.
For Pillar, delivering a walkoff single — even if it’s just a blooper into short right field — gives the Jays another reason to keep him around.

“I was down in the cage and Jose told me how to increase my role on the team . . . whether you pinch-hit or pinch-run, just be aggressive,” Pillar said after the game as the Jays got back on track following consecutive shutout losses to the St. Louis Cardinals on the weekend.

It almost didn’t happen, though. The Jays lost a 4-2 lead when closer Casey Janssen gave up back-to-back RBI doubles in the ninth to Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Escobar, stunning the crowd of 19,428. The runs were the first Janssen had allowed this season.

But Pillar, who’d entered the game in the top of the ninth as a defensive replacement for Melky Cabrera, delivered the dagger, a short arc of a single into the right spot behind the infield. It’s the kind of thing winning teams do, just as winning teams need heroics not only from the likes of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — who hit his 20th homer, a three-run shot, in the first inning — but from guys off the bench like Pillar.

“It was a slider off the plate,” Pillar said of his RBI single off Twins reliever Casey Fien. “I tried to nestle it somewhere, and I’m just glad it worked out.”