ATLANTA — Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar was suspended two games Thursday for yelling an anti-gay slur at a Braves pitcher.
The Blue Jays suspended Pillar without pay shortly after he apologized in a statement, saying he was “completely and utterly embarrassed” by the word he directed at Jason Motte.
Pillar was angry at Motte for allegedly quick-pitching him to get a strikeout that ended the seventh inning in Atlanta’s 8-4 victory Wednesday night .
Replays appeared to show Pillar using the slur as he shouted toward the mound. After what he described as a sleepless night, the player acknowledged his wrongdoing.
“I regret saying it,” Pillar told reporters at SunTrust Park a few hours before the finale of a four-game series against the Braves. “I’m going to use myself as an example of how there are words out there you can’t use. It’s not a word I use ever. … It’s something that just came out.”
Toronto general manager Ross Atkins flew to Atlanta to apologize on behalf of the organization and announce the suspension, which he said was deemed appropriate by Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Pillar will miss Thursday’s game against the Braves, as well as Friday’s game at Baltimore. He will forfeit approximately $6,066 of his $555,000 salary, with the money donated to charity.
Pillar will also pay an undisclosed fine.
“A large group decided that was appropriate,” Atkins said. “There is no question that was in the heat of the moment, but that’s no excuse.”
In his statement, Pillar lamented that he “helped extend the use of a word that has no place in baseball, in sports or anywhere in society today. I’m completely and utterly embarrassed and feel horrible to have put the fans, my teammates and the Blue Jays organization in this position.”
The incident occurred during the Blue Jays’ third straight loss to the Braves. With his team trailing 8-3, Pillar struck out swinging to end a 1-2-3 seventh. He yelled toward the mound, prompting Motte to throw up his arms as if he didn’t know what the problem was.
Atlanta catcher Kurt Suzuki and home plate umpire Brian O’Nora stepped in to diffuse the tension. Pillar headed toward the outfield and the Braves left the field.
Afterward, Pillar conceded to reporters that he was frustrated by his team’s struggles, though he didn’t mention what he said.
“It just stems from a little frustration in myself, just the way this series has been going,” he said. “It was immature, stupid. It was uncalled for. It’s part of the game. I’m a competitive guy.”
Pillar was much more contrite on Thursday. He called Motte to apologize, and said in his statement that he also wanted to “apologize to the Braves organization and their fans, and most importantly, to the LGBTQ community for the lack of respect I displayed last night. This is not who I am and will use this as an opportunity to better myself.”
“I will be an example of how words can offend a lot of people,” Pillar told reporters. “I hope people see this as just an error in judgment.”
In 2012, the Blue Jays gave shortstop Yunel Escobar a three-game suspension after he played a game with an anti-gay slur written in Spanish on his eye-black stickers.
The team took a similar position toward Pillar.
“We wanted to make sure we were as proactive as possible to get in front of it,” Atkins said.
Pillar’s slur came during a heated game in which Braves star Freddie Freeman was struck on the left wrist by a pitch, resulting in a fracture that will sideline one of the game’s best hitters for approximately 10 weeks.
In the eighth inning, both teams charged onto the field after Toronto’s Jose Bautista homered off Eric O’Flaherty, stared down the Atlanta reliever and flipped his bat high in the air. Jace Peterson shouted something at Bautista as he rounded first base, and Suzuki exchanged words with the Blue Jays slugger after he touched home plate.
No punches were thrown, but O’Flaherty issued a harsh rebuke to Bautista after the game.
“That’s something making the game tough to watch,” the pitcher said, referring to previous home run celebrations by the Toronto slugger. “It’s turned into look-at-me stuff. He hit a home run with (the Braves holding) a five-run lead and throws the bat around. I’m just tired of it. I’ve seen it from him enough.”
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta, AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York and Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
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