ANAHEIM, Calif. >> 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 Félix Peña 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 Peña, 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. Peña 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.
The Angels will spend the rest of the summer trying to make more happy memories to compete with the sadness they’ll never entirely forget.
“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. Either sarcastically, jokingly, or he was trying to put a smile on your face. We’re always going to be thinking about him. It’s always going to be emotional. It’s different for everybody. It’s just something we’re going to have to get through.