Pillar role in ATL-TOR incidents under scrutiny

Pillar role in ATL-TOR incidents under scrutiny

ATLANTA -- The Blue Jays and Braves have a bit of history, but there really haven't been many memorable moments between these two teams since the 1992 World Series. That changed Wednesday night.

Toronto and Atlanta got into a pair of benches-clearing incidents that were sparked by a heated verbal exchange involving Kevin Pillar and a bat flip by Jose Bautista. These organizations never had any reason to dislike each other before, but that probably changed following the Braves' 8-4 victory at SunTrust Park.

A Major League Baseball spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the league is investigating Pillar's role in the incidents. It appeared on video as though Pillar may have used a homophobic slur toward Braves pitcher Jason Motte. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins was expected to address the situation on Thursday.

The exchange between Pillar and Motte began when Pillar took exception to a quick pitch from Motte. Pillar struck out swinging on the 86-mph cutter outside of the zone and then yelled something in the direction of Motte.

The verbal exchange prompted Motte to take several steps toward Pillar. The teams converged on the field, but there was no physical altercation and home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora quickly helped restore calm.

It's impossible to know exactly what Pillar said until and unless someone on the field gives a firsthand account, but suggestions abounded on social media that video evidence showed Pillar using a slur.

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Reporters were not aware of the speculation when they entered the clubhouse shortly after the game, and so Pillar was neither asked nor given the opportunity to clarify exactly what was said. But he did take full ownership of the fact that he reacted poorly to the quick pitch.

"Obviously, that was the initial thing I was upset about, but I think it just stems from a little frustration in myself and just the way this series has been going," Pillar said. "It was immature, it was stupid, it was uncalled for. It's part of the game -- it's just, I'm a competitive guy and heat of the moment. Obviously, I'm going to do whatever I've got to do to reach out and apologize and let him know he didn't do anything wrong. It was all me."

Braves on Bautista, bat flip

The second exchange took place in the top of the eighth inning when Bautista hit a solo homer to left field. Even though his team was trailing by five runs before he stepped to the plate, Bautista stared back at the mound after the home run and flipped his bat into the air before slowly trotting to first base.

Atlanta's Jace Peterson exchanged words with Bautista at first, and then even more words were exchanged as he crossed home plate and encountered catcher Kurt Suzuki.

"I think it's part of the game, the emotion," Bautista said when asked about the bat flip. "Sometimes it's fitting in the game. Sometimes it's not. Just like people celebrate after defensive plays and big strikeouts, I think it's part of the game and we're all getting used to it."

Considering the 8-4 score, the timing of Bautista's bat flip was rather peculiar, and he seemed to concede as much after the game by saying: "It had nothing to do with [frustration], but it was definitely not something that was fitting for the moment."

The bat flip brought back memories of Toronto's victory over the Rangers in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series. That moment eventually led to a benches-clearing fracas the following season when the Rangers and Blue Jays met again in Texas. Rangers right-hander Matt Bush hit Bautista with a pitch, and Bautista tried to get some payback by sliding hard and late into second base. Texas' Rougned Odor responded by punching Bautista square on the jaw, and that was the incident that the Braves thought of when words were flying around the field on Wednesday night.

"I'm surprised he's ready to fight again after last year," Braves lefty Eric O'Flaherty said. "But he was throwing some looks around. So it is what it is."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.