The stricken finally returned home to start the season’s second half. And the way they did it didn’t just defy belief, it drove belief almost as far out of Angel Stadium Friday night as Mike Trout’s two-run homer flew out in the bottom of the first.
The Angels paid one more tribute to the unexpectedly late Tyler Skaggs before the home audience Friday night. On the night before Skaggs would have turned 28. With a combined no-hitter and a sinking of the Mariners all the way to Davy Jones’s Locker.
It only began with a 45-second pre-game moment of silence in Skaggs’ memory, the time in honour of his uniform number. The Angels one and all wore Skaggs’ number 45 for the moment and for the game. Some dare call that tempting the baseball demigods, others dare call it divine inspiration.
After the Angels put the 13-0 no-no squarely into the bank, nobody really knew what to call it. Assuming God was available for comment, even He Himself might have been lost for words, and His words are usually the best words any side of heaven.
“Tyler’s birthday is 7/13. Tomorrow,” said Trout following the game. “They’d tell you to rewrite this script to make it more believable if you turned this in.” Which is pretty astute coming from a guy who claimed to be speechless over what he and his mates just did.
“Absolutely incredible,” tweeted Astros pitcher Justin Verlander. “Meant to be.”
The Mariners joined the Angels, showing shiploads of class, in lining up the baselines from the plate as a Skaggs jersey was placed behind the Angel Stadium pitcher’s mound in a frame.
Skaggs’ widow, Carli, his mother Debbie, his stepfather Dan, and his stepbrother Garrett, made for the mound accompanied by Angels pitcher Andrew Heaney. Then Debbie wound up and threw a ceremonial first pitch, before embracing Heaney and Mike Trout, the Angels’ all-everything center fielder suddenly emergent as the team’s no questions asked leader in the immediate aftermath of Skaggs’ unexpected death.
And those genuinely touching moments were almost nothing compared to what happened during the actual game, played in front of a likeness of Skaggs and a circular memorial displaying number 45 large on the rear end of Trout’s office, the center field fence.
How many times can you say the Angels paid their departed pitcher the most unexpectedly appropriate tribute of all—a game in which two pitchers, Taylor Cole (two innings) and Felix Pena (seven innings) combined to surrender no hits, only one walk, and see not a single Mariner reach on an error?
How often can you say Trout himself—who wept unashamedly last week in Texas, trying to express what his friend Skaggs meant to himself and to their team—accounted admirably for almost exactly half the Angels’ commemorative destruction?
Say it as often as you like even if you’re not an Angel fan. Because seldom if ever has a team rent by in-season tragedy responded like this when finally getting to play for the home audience after their lost teammate’s death on the road, showing him the love with their fans.
And even less often does it begin the way it did in the bottom of the first, after Cole retired the Mariners in order on a strikeout, a fly out, and a ground out—dropping seven on Mariners starter Mike Leake before Matt Festa struck out Justin Upton, who’d singled earlier in the inning, swinging on a 2-2 fastball.
The carnage only began when Angels leadoff man David Fletcher banged a double off the right center field wall. Trout stepped up in the number two slot and, proving it almost doesn’t matter where in the Angel lineup he hits, turned on a Leake sinker with about as much sink as a blimp and blasted it right into the rocks behind the center field fence.
Almost immediately after crossing the plate himself, Trout looked toward the Angel Stadium section where players’ wives or girl friends sit, until he caught Carli Skaggs’ eye. It looks as though he gave her a gentle affirmative nod. That one’s for your husband, Carli. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The inning from there went single (Shohei Ohtani), single (Justin Upton), swinging strikeout, RBI single (Andrelton Simmons scoring Ohtani), run-scoring error (Upton scoring as Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon misplayed a forceout), RBI single (Dustin Garneau), swinging strikeout, bases-loading single (Fletcher), and Trout’s two-run double.
And Trout wasn’t even close to finished for the night. The very next inning, a strikeout after Festa walked Simmons home, Festa hit Trout with a 2-0 slider to send home Justin Bour. Three innings and two more Mariners pitchers later, Trout squared off against Matt Wistler with Fletcher on second thanks to a single and a throwing error on the play and rifled a double to the back of left field, scoring Fletcher and making things 10-0.
All the while Pena continued keeping the Mariners from bringing their flippers to bear after Cole worked the first two spotless. About the only dicey moment he really faced, other than walking Mariners designated hitter Omar Narvaez in the fifth, was Mac Williamson smashing a grounder in the top of the sixth for which third baseman Matt Thaiss needed to make a diving stop and hard enough throw to nip Williamson.
Trout helped put another cherry atop the Angels’ sundae evening when he came home as Upton sent Mariners reliever Parker Markel’s 2-0 fastball over the center field fence. The Angel who patrols center field like a cop with acrobats in his family history did his evening’s work so well there wasn’t a baseball jury on earth who’d convict or sentence him for grounding out with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the eighth.
By then the only question left was whether Pena could finish the second combined no-no in Angels history. (The first was between Mark Langston and Mike Witt in 1990.) And, the first Angel no-hitter of any kind since Jered Weaver in 2012. Strangely enough, it was in 2012 that the Mariners themselves were last no-hit, courtesy of the White Sox’s Philip Humber’s perfect game.
The answer was Williamson flying out on the first pitch, Gordon grounding out on the second pitch, and Mallex Smith grounding out on the second pitch. Easy as 1, 2, 2.
“This,” tweeted Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, “is unbelievable. The baseball gods.”
Nobody’s really going to care for the smaller details of the night such as the Angels going 7-20 with runners at second base or better including Trout’s 3-for-4. Nobody’s going to care (too much) that, between them, Cole and Pena threw 63 strikes out of 103 pitches, with Cole striking out a pair and Pena punching out six.
Leave those details plus the Mariners’ seven pitchers combining to surrender eight earned runs, punching out eleven, but walking seven, to the statisticians. Because other than the surrealistic final score, and the absence of Mariners hits, nobody cared about any numbers above and beyond the 45 on the Angels’ backs Friday night.
Nobody cared about anything other than one baseball team coming home from a heartbroken road trip, seeing the massive makeshift memorial to their fallen teammate outside the home plate entrances to their ballpark, and taking a little extra incentive they hardly needed considering, to suit up and give him a sendoff he couldn’t have imagined but surely hoped wouldn’t come for decades yet to be. Decades he’ll see only from heaven.
With Skaggs’ clubhouse locker fully stocked and the team intending to keep it that way the rest of the season, the Angels had one more tribute to make after the game. They went out to the mound and covered it in Skaggs jerseys. Leaving the big 45 behind the pitching rubber exposed. There was nothing more they could possibly do.
Whether the Angels go from here to the postseason, even though they now sit in rear-view enough distance five and a half games and five teams away from a wild card slot, almost doesn’t matter. On Friday night, saying one more farewell to a pitcher they loved on the mound and even more as a young man, the Angels were bigger than baseball. And baseball didn’t seem to mind one bit.