ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels put on Tyler Skaggs’ No. 45 jerseys and stood solemnly on the field while his mother, Debbie, delivered a heartbreakingly perfect strike on the first pitch.
The @Angels honoured the late Tyler Skaggs as his mother threw out the first pitch
Today's game was the Angels first home game since Skaggs' passing pic.twitter.com/8xv8txHRI1
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 13, 2019
The Angels then proceeded to play their heavy hearts out in their first home game since their beloved pitcher’s death.
Two Angels pitchers combined to throw the 11th no-hitter in franchise history, and Mike Trout drove in six runs in a stunning 13-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.
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 is about him," injured Angels infielder Zack Cozart said before the game. "We’re going to do what we can to honour him and keep his legacy going."
This tribute ended up exceeding all logic and expectation, however.
Still reeling from the loss of their left-handed starter early last week in Texas, the Angels somehow excelled in every aspect of the game while wearing replicas of Skaggs’ red jersey.
What a moment pic.twitter.com/0juy4Q4Zsz
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) July 13, 2019
The Angels scored eight runs on seven hits in the first inning alone, with Trout delivering a two-run homer and a two-run double.
Taylor Cole opened with two perfect innings before Felix Pena came on for seven more, allowing only a fifth-inning walk in the performance of his life.
Before the game, Skaggs’ presence was strong in Anaheim.
"He’s still a part of the team, even though he’s not here," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said before the game.
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 centre 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 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 sombre All-Star break during which Skaggs was honoured 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."
During a poignant pregame ceremony, both teams lined the basepaths as Skaggs’ family took the mound led by Debbie Skaggs, the longtime softball coach at Santa Monica High School.
Debbie Skaggs threw a brisk strike to Andrew Heaney, Skaggs’ best friend and fellow Angels rotation member.
The Angels then battered Seattle starter Mike Leake in a surreal seven-run, eight-hit first inning highlighted by Trout, who has been relentless at the plate ever since Skaggs’ death.
Trout crushed a 454-foot, two-run homer to left-centre on the first pitch he saw from Leake. 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.
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 centre 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," Ausmus said. "That’s fine. We’re human beings. There’s nothing wrong with that."