ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Angels all wore Tyler Skaggs’ No. 45 jerseys as they stood solemnly on the field while his mother, Debbie, delivered a heartbreakingly perfect strike with her first pitch.
Three incredible hours later, the Angels walked back onto the Angel Stadium field, some with tears in their eyes. One by one, they removed those No. 45 jerseys and spread them over the mound until nearly all of the dirt was covered in red.
In between those two melancholy, magical moments, the Angels played their heavy hearts out in their first home game since their beloved pitcher’s death.
Their 13-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday was a combined no-hitter by Taylor Cole and Félix Peña. Mike Trout contributed six RBIs, including a 454-foot homer on the first pitch he saw.
On the day before what would have been Skaggs’ 28th birthday, these astonishing Angels played a practically perfect game with his memory in their minds.
“Tonight was in honor of him,” Trout said. “He was definitely looking over us tonight. He’s probably up there saying we’re nasty. What an unbelievable game to be a part of. I’m speechless. This is the best way possible to honor him tonight. It was pretty crazy.”
The Angels decided last week that they would wear Skaggs’ jersey in their first game back at the Big A, but their tribute ended up exceeding all logic and reasonable expectation. Still reeling from the loss of their left-handed starter early last week in Texas, the Angels somehow blinked away their tears and excelled in every aspect of the game.
“This is obviously the worst thing that could happen for a team,” Trout said. “Emotionally, the team came together. … Tonight, to honor him again obviously opened the wound again. (But) just to be out there where he loved to pitch from, where he dominated and threw that curveball that came from the sky, just to honor him one more time, it meant a lot to me. It was just a great moment for our team to (gather) around the mound and honor him again.”
The Angels emerged from that reverential circle around the mound with a newer, happier memory of this harrowing time in team history.
Los Angeles scored seven runs on eight hits in the first inning alone. Trout crushed a 454-foot, two-run homer to left-center on the first pitch he saw, and the two-time AL MVP appeared to look toward Skaggs’ family in the stands as he crossed the plate after an unusually long home run trot.
Cole also opened flawlessly on the mound. The reliever pounded his chest and pointed at the sky when Kole Calhoun caught the final out of the second.
“I know he’s here today, and he was looking over us, and he’s definitely a part of this,” said Cole, a 29-year-old reliever making only his 33rd career big-league appearance. “We love him, we miss him, and we’re always going to be there for him.”
Before the game, Skaggs’ presence was strong in Anaheim.
His jersey hung in his untouched locker in the clubhouse, his pristine cleats and gloves ready for a ballgame. The big stereo system in the room’s center is silent because the affable left-hander who controlled the Angels’ musical choices is no longer here.
And on the far wall of the clubhouse, two photos of Skaggs now flank his competitive catchphrase printed in tall letters: “WE’RE NASTY.”
“He’s the life of the team, honestly,” said infielder Zack Cozart, Skaggs’ teammate for the past two seasons. “We’re family in here. We’re around each other all day, every day. You just hurt so much for Tyler’s family. … It’s so sudden and so tragic. Forty-five will always be in my mind. That’s how it’s always going to be for all of us.”
The baseball season’s relentless pace forces the Angels to heal while they play, and they went back to work after a somber All-Star break during which Skaggs was honored at the game in Cleveland.
“In some respects, sometimes keeping busy can help,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “I don’t really know if that’s the right way to go about it, because you do need to grieve. Everybody has those moments, personal to them. I’ve had a couple of those myself. But for a lot of us, seeing each other again is nice.”
While the Angels eventually will settle into the rhythms of the season, Skaggs’ presence will be felt throughout the stadium, from his intact locker to the large likeness of the well-liked pitcher now displayed prominently on the center field wall.
A memorial created by fans in front of the Big A’s main entrance has grown to the size of a pitcher’s mound, with hats, signs and baseballs and other Angels memorabilia delivered to the stadium by heartbroken fans over the past 10 days. Most of the Angels saw the memorial in person for the first time when they returned from a difficult road trip and the ensuing All-Star break.
“I think guys will become emotional again, because it is still very fresh,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s fine. We’re human beings. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
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