‘He’s here’: An­gels honor Sk­aggs with amaz­ing game

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Sports - BY GREG BEACHAM

When the Los An­ge­les An­gels think about Tyler Sk­aggs in the months and years ahead, An­drew Heaney is grate­ful they’ll have the mem­ory of one in­cred­i­ble night to as­suage their sad­ness.

With Sk­aggs’ name and No. 45 on all of their jer­seys Fri­day night, the An­gels played prac­ti­cally per­fect baseball through­out their first home game since their 27-year-old team­mate’s death.

After they com­pleted a com­bined no-hit­ter and a 13-0 vic­tory over Seat­tle, the An­gels gath­ered on the field and placed those No. 45 jer­seys on the mound un­til it was more red than brown.

The An­gels then stood rev­er­ently in a cir­cle to pay one more trib­ute to the ebul­lient, lanky left-han­der who def­i­nitely would have called them nasty.

“For us, it’s emo­tion­ally ther­a­peu­tic,” said Heaney, Sk­aggs’ best friend and fel­low start­ing pitcher. “After the game, we ran out on the field and ev­ery­body was cel­e­brat­ing. Like three hours ear­lier, I don’t know about ev­ery­body else, (but) I had tears in my eyes. You’re sort of re­liv­ing your bad mem­o­ries, bad thoughts. Just for tonight, and maybe mov­ing for­ward, it can change your mind­set. When you think about him, you’re think­ing about the loss of a friend, a team­mate. But mov­ing for­ward, hope­fully you think of his jer­sey, you think of his name, (and) it brings back pos­i­tive mem­o­ries.”

This too-good-for-Hol­ly­wood evening be­gan with a touch­ing pregame cer­e­mony hon­or­ing Sk­aggs, who was found dead in his ho­tel room July 1 in Texas on the first morn­ing of a road trip.

The An­gels and Mariners all stood solemnly on the Big A field while Sk­aggs’ mother, Deb­bie, de­liv­ered a heart­break­ingly per­fect strike with her first pitch.

When the game be­gan, the An­gels were fear­less and nearly flaw­less.

Tay­lor Cole opened with two per­fect in­nings be­fore Felix Pena pitched the game of his life, al­low­ing just one walk in seven hit­less in­nings. To­gether, they threw the 11th no-hit­ter in fran­chise his­tory on the night be­fore what would have been Sk­aggs’ 28th birth­day.

“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.”

The sur­real de­tails piled up as the An­gels ab­sorbed the enor­mity of their night.

As Mike Trout noted, they scored seven runs in the first in­ning and fin­ished with 13 runs and 13 hits – and Sk­aggs’ birth­day is 7-13 – July 13th.

The last com­bined no-hit­ter in Cal­i­for­nia was thrown in Oak­land on July 13, 1991 – the ex­act day Sk­aggs, a Cal­i­for­nia na­tive, was born.

“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.”

Trout rarely swings at the first pitch in any at-bat, yet he hit a thun­der­ous 454-foot homer on the first pitch he saw from Seat­tle’s Mike Leake in the first in­ning. After an un­com­monly slow trot around the bases, Trout point­edly looked up in the di­rec­tion of Sk­aggs’ fam­ily in the stands.

The two-time AL MVP fin­ished with two dou­bles and six RBIs in the lat­est spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mance of his six-game tear since the death of his close friend.

Trout echoed Heaney’s thoughts about the im­por­tance of be­ing able to re­mem­ber this mag­i­cal night along­side the trauma caused by Sk­aggs’ sud­den death. The well-liked pitcher con­trolled the An­gels’ club­house stereo sys­tem with an iron fist, but he also ea­gerly shared poin­t­ers and en­cour­age­ment with his team­mates – in­clud­ing Pena, who re­peat­edly thought about Sk­aggs’ con­stant ex­hor­ta­tions to fo­cus while he com­pleted the no-hit­ter.

“He wouldn’t want any­thing else,” Trout said. “When I think of him, it’s that joy­ful laugh. He wouldn’t want us to be up­set. … When­ever you think of him, it’s tough to tell your­self he passed. But (after) tonight, when you think of Tyler, think of the day we wore his jer­sey to honor him and honor his fam­ily and honor Carli. Pena and Cole threw a no-hit­ter. Just pos­i­tive thoughts.”

Trout and the An­gels’ other team lead­ers de­vised the plan to wear Sk­aggs’ jer­sey last week, hop­ing to make a spe­cial mem­ory for Sk­aggs’ par­ents and his wife, Carli. They had no doubt of a strong first pitch by his mom, a long­time soft­ball coach at Santa Mon­ica High School.

But even the best player in baseball couldn’t have imag­ined just how spe­cial it would turn out to be. The An­gels dom­i­nated ev­ery as­pect of the game after a pregame cer­e­mony that made many of them quite emo­tional.

“In a sense, it did open up the wounds a lit­tle bit, be­cause it re­minded us of the re­al­ity that Tyler is gone, we re­ally miss him, and we would rather have him here,” An­gels man­ager Brad Aus­mus said. “It brings the emo­tion back, but I don’t want to say it’s a neg­a­tive thing.”

Not much about the An­gels’ sea­son had been mem­o­rable be­fore the past two weeks. Sk­aggs was likely the most re­li­able start­ing pitcher in an up-and-down ro­ta­tion that has kept Los An­ge­les stuck near .500, with fad­ing hopes of end­ing their nearly decade-long play­off vic­tory drought.

Although Sk­aggs is gone, he won’t be far from the An­gels’ minds and eyes. His locker will be kept un­touched for the rest of the sea­son, and his com­pet­i­tive catch­phrase – “We’re nasty!” – is now em­bla­zoned on the club­house wall.

“I think it’s go­ing to be tough this sea­son,” Trout said. “Ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to re­mem­ber him al­ways. It just seems like ev­ery­thing we do at the sta­dium, he al­ways comes up. You walk by his locker ev­ery day. Ev­ery time you’d go up to him, he’d have that smirk on his face.”

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ AP

Mem­bers of the Los An­ge­les An­gels place their jer­seys with No. 45 in honor of pitcher Tyler Sk­aggs on the mound after a com­bined no-hit­ter against the Seat­tle Mariners on Fri­day in Ana­heim. Sk­aggs was found dead in his ho­tel room July 1 in Texas on the first morn­ing of a road trip.

WALLY SKALIJ Los An­ge­les Times

The mother of Los An­ge­les An­gels pitcher Tyler Sk­aggs, Deb­bie, prays after throw­ing a per­fect strike on the cer­e­mo­nial first pitch in mem­ory of her son.

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