The Los Angeles Angels on Friday 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 was a combined no-hitter by Taylor Cole and Felix Pena. 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.”
The Angels last week decided 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 last week in Texas, the Angels somehow blinked away their tears and excelled in every aspect of the game.
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 two-run homer to left-center on the first pitch he saw, and he 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.
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 was silent, as the affable left-hander who controlled the Angels’ musical choices was no longer there.
On the far wall of the clubhouse, two photographs of Skaggs now flank his competitive catchphrase printed in tall letters: “WE’RE NASTY.”
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 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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