One for the road. And, the ages.

2019-10-31 WashingtonNationals

The road was anything but lonesome for the Nationals this World Series.

From early in the season, when the Nationals were left for dead, and their manager left for death row, gallows humour often salved. So has it done though a lot of the now-concluded World Series. Such humour didn’t exactly hurt after their stupefying Game Six win in Houston, either.

Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki, himself hoping for a Game Seven return appearance after an absence due to a hip issue, couldn’t resist, after Max Scherzer showed up alive and throwing Tuesday. “We were all kind of making fun of him,” Suzuki told an interviewer, “saying he was going to rise from the dead.”

You could say that about the Nats themselves. They’ve been rising from the dead since the regular season ended, too. They won the World Series, beating the Astros 6-2 in Game Seven, rising from the dead, too. Inspired in large part by a pitcher who looked for most of his five innings’ work as though his ghost was on the mound clanking in chains.

And, with neither team able to win at home this time around. For the first time in the history of any major team sport whose championship is chosen in a best-of-seven set. The Nats and the Astros burglarised each other’s houses and left nothing behind, not even an old, tarnished butter knife in the silverware drawer. And the Astros’ hard-earned home field advantage proved the Nats’ road to the Promised Land.

Unearth Canned Heat warbling “On the Road Again,” from the opening tamboura drone to the final harmonics and all harmonica-weeping points in between. Crank up the Doors swinging “Roadhouse Blues.” Pay particular attention to the closing couplet: The future’s uncertain/the end is always near.

For five innings Wednesday night the Nats’ future was as uncertain as the Astros’ end was as near and clear as a 2-0 lead could make it. And try to figure out just how Scherzer with less than nothing other than his sheer will kept it 2-0 while getting his . . .

No. Not Houdini, for all his Game Seven escape acts. Scherzer wasn’t even a brief impersonation of Max the Knife, but after Wednesday he ought to think about a stand in Las Vegas. He’d make Penn & Teller resemble a pair of street hustlers. David Copperfield’s a mere practical joker next to this.

“You can’t really call it a miracle,” said Nats right fielder Adam Eaton post-game, “but it will be a reality-TV movie. Come on, how many books are going to be written about this?” Let’s see . . . Bluff, The Magic Dragons? 20,000 Leagues Beneath Belief? Four Innings Before the Mast? The Nats in the Hat Come Back?

Making baseball’s best team on the year take a long walk into winter has all the simplicity of quantum physics. Doing it when you send a pitcher to the Game Seven mound with nothing but his stubborn will is only slightly less complex.

“I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect when he took the ball,” said Nats reliever Sean Doolittle after the game. “After what he went through with his neck, you don’t know how that’s going to hold up with his violent delivery. You don’t know what his stamina is going to be like. But with Max, we’ve come to expect the unexpected. It was gutsy, man . . . He willed us to stay in the game and that was awesome. I know guys fed off it.”

But on a night Astros starter Zack Greinke operated like a disciple of legendary Texas cardiovascular surgeon Michael DeBakey with the Nats practically on life support, that could have been fatal. Until Patrick Corbin, Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, Juan Soto, Daniel Hudson, and—reality check, folks—the lack of Gerrit Cole made sure it wasn’t.

Scherzer pulled rabbits out of his hat and anyplace else he could find them and was almost lucky that only two of the hares treated him like Elmer Fudd. Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel sent a 2-1 slider with as much slide as a piece of sandpaper into the Crawford Boxes in the bottom of the second, and Carlos Correa whacked an RBI single off Anthony Rendon’s glove at third in the bottom of the fifth.

Nats manager Dave Martinez called for a review on that play, ostensibly to determine whether Yordan Alverez’s foot was actually off the pad after he rounded but was held at third on the play, but realistically to give Corbin a little more warmup time. Then Corbin went to work starting in the bottom of the sixth. And the Nats went to work in earnest in the top of the seventh.

With one out and Greinke still looking somewhat like a smooth operator, Rendon caught hold of a changeup reaching toward the floor of the strike zone and drove it midway up the Crawford Boxes. One walk to Soto later, Greinke was out of the game and Will Harris was in. With Cole—who’d paralysed the Nats in Game Five, and who was seen stirring in the Astro bullpen a little earlier Wednesday night—not even a topic.

For which the Astros’ usually clever, always sensitively intelligent manager A.J. Hinch is liable to be second guessed until the end of time or another Astros lease on the Promised Land, whichever comes first. If he thought Greinke at a measly eighty pitches was done, why not reach for Cole who’d hammerlocked the Nats in Game Five and probably had an inning or three in his tank?

“I wasn’t going to pitch him unless we were going to win the World Series and have a lead,” Hinch said matter-of-factly after the game. “He was going to help us win. He was available, and I felt it was a game that he was going to come in had we tied it or taken the lead. He was going to close the game in the ninth after I brought [Roberto] Osuna in had we kept the lead.”

“They got a good lineup, especially the top of the order,” Greinke himself said. “It’s tough to get through no matter one time, two times, three times. All of them are tough. Really good hitters up there.”

Except that Hinch still had a 2-1 lead when he thanked Greinke for a splendid night’s work.”He was absolutely incredible . . . he did everything we could ask for and more,” said Hinch when it was all over. “He was in complete control, he made very few mistakes, in the end the home run to walk was the only threat to him.”

You can bet that even the Nats thought Hinch would reach for Cole in that moment. It’s the Casey Stengel principle, as his biographer Robert W. Creamer once described: if you have an opening, shove with your shoulder. If you think your man is done but you still need a stopper, you reach for him like five minutes ago.

And in one or two corners of the Nats dugout the thought of Cole coming in was actually welcome. “When we saw Cole warming up,” coach Kevin Long told reporters after the game, “we were almost like, ‘Please bring him in.’ Because that’s how good Zack Greinke was.”

But Harris it was. He was one of the Astros’ most reliable bullpen bulls on the season, and he’d been mostly likewise through this postseason. But after swinging and missing on a curvaceous enough curve ball, Kendrick found the screws on a cutter off the middle and sent it the other way, down the right field line, and ringing off the foul pole with a bonk! that no one sitting in Minute Maid Park is liable to forget for ages yet to come.

“I made a pretty good pitch,” Harris said after the game. “He made a championship play for a championship team.”

“The pitch he made to Howie—I just don’t understand how he hit that out,” said Carlos Correa, the only Astro somehow to have a base hit with a runner on second or better Wednesday night. “It doesn’t add up. The way he throws his cutter, it’s one of the nastiest cutters in the game. Down and away, on the black, and he hits it off the foul pole. It was meant to be, I guess, for them. I thought we played great, but they played better. It was their year.”

Osuna relieved Harris and settled the Nats after surrendering an almost immediate base hit to Nats second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, but he wouldn’t be that fortunate in the eighth. He walked Eaton with one out, but Eaton stole second with Rendon at the plate and, after Rendon flied out, Soto pulled a line single to right to send Eaton home.

Ryan Pressly ended the inning by getting a line drive out from Cabrera, but another Astro reliever, Joe Smith, wouldn’t be that fortunate in the ninth. Ryan Zimmerman led off with a single up the pipe; Yan Gomes bounced one back to the box enabling Smith to get Zimmerman but not the double play; Victor Robles stroked a soft-punch line single into center; and, Trea Turner fought his way to a walk and ducks on the pond.

Hinch reached for Jose Urquidy, his Game Four opener and five-inning virtuoso back in Washington. But Eaton reached for and lined a hit into shallow enough center with Gomes scoring in a flash and Robles coming in behind him, freed up when Astro center fielder Jake Marisnick, usually one of the surest defensive hands they have, lost the handle on the ball and gave Robles room to move.

And, giving Hudson all the room he needed to pop George Springer out at second and to strike Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley out swinging to pop the corks and blow the lid off 95 years worth of Washington baseball frustration. Which looked impossible in late May, looked improbable just last weekend, but looks just as impossible the morning after.

Believing that Rendon could become only the fifth man to homer in Games Six and Seven of the same Series (behind Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente, plus Allen Craig and—a mere two years ago—Springer himself) was more plausible. Believing Harris could become the first pitcher hung with a blown save in a Game Seven at home since Boston’s Roger Moret in 1975 wasn’t, necessarily.

But believing no World Series combatant would win even a single game at home in a seven game set defies everything. The Nats outscored the Astros 30-11 in Minute Maid Park; the Astros out-scored the Nats 19-3 in Nationals Park. The Astros played their heads, hearts, and tails off all year long to get the postseason’s home field advantage, and the Nats swooped in to rob them blind.

All game long the world seemed to think Martinez had lost his marble—singular—letting Scherzer stay on the mound despite have nothing to challenge the Astros with except meatballs, snowballs, and grapefruits. The skipper who eluded execution after 23 May now looked as though they’d pull the guillotine with his name on it back out of storage. Then the final three innings made him look like Alfred Hitchcock.

That 19-31 start to the Nats’ season? The worst for any team that went on to win that year’s World Series. From twelve under .500 to the Promised Land? You have company, now, 1914 Miracle Braves. An 8-1 postseason road record including eight straight road wins en route the trophy? Good morning, 1996 Yankees.

The first number one draft overall to end his season as the World Series MVP? Welcome to the party, Stephen Strasburg. The sixth man to hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh or later in a World Series? Roger Peckinpaugh, Hal Smith, Bill Mazeroski, Ray Knight, and Alfonso Soriano, meet Howie Kendrick, who’s now the only man in postseason history with more than one go-ahead homer in the seventh or later in elimination games.

The youngest man to hit the most homers in a single postseason and three in a single World Series? Today you are a man, Juan Soto.

All that courtesy of MLB.com and ESPN’s Stats and Info department. They give you the numbers. But they can’t really account for that old Nats magic. Nobody can, try though they might. The Nats just hope this isn’t the end of it. Which might be tricky if the Nats can’t convince Anthony Rendon to stay rather than play the free agency market or Strasburg not to exercise his contract’s opt-out option.

Cole is also a pending free agent. And he plopped a postgame cap on his head bearing the logo of his agent Scott Boras’s operation. When an Astro spokesman asked him to talk to reporters after the game, he was heard saying, “I’m not an employee of the team.” Then, he said he’d talk “as a representative of myself, I guess.”

Liable to be this year’s American League Cy Young Award winner, and facing maybe the fattest payday ever handed to a prime pitcher, Cole wouldn’t say if the Astros losing the World Series prompted him to declare his free agency that swiftly, that emphatically. He wouldn’t say whether he was mad that Hinch didn’t bring him in.

“We just went over the game plan and he laid out the most advantageous times to use me,” Cole told reporters. “And we didn’t get to that position.”

For Altuve, arguably the heart and soul of the Astros on the field and in the clubhouse alike, the heartbreak was impossible to hide. “I don’t think I can handle this,” he said candidly. “It’s really hard to lose Game Seven of the World Series. What I can tell you is we did everything we could . . . We did everything to make it happen. We couldn’t, but that’s baseball.”

Sometimes it’s even harder to win Game Seven. That’s baseball, too. The Nats stand in the Promised Land as living, breathing, “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and first in Show” proof.

With the sixth you get steamrolled

2019-10-06 PatrickCorbin

Patrick Corbin, the third man in the Nats’ starters-as-relievers plan, was the first and worst to be torched.

There is one bright side to the Nationals being bludgeoned 10-4 by the Dodgers Sunday night. It means they still have a shot in their National League division series. Because they’ll send Max Scherzer to the mound for Game Four. And all they need is Scherzer to be as close to Scherzer as possible.

If he is, the Nats have a fighting chance. And, Stephen Strasburg on regular rest for Game Five in Dodger Stadium. If he isn’t, they’ll look even more like baseball’s version of a Harold Stassen presidential campaign.

For the time being, though, they might want to can the starter-as-reliever strategy no matter how testy most of their bullpen is. They need Scherzer to pitch them as deep as possible without getting drowned. While praying manager Dave Martinez shakes Sunday off enough not to push anything resembling a panic button.

Certainly not the one he pushed Sunday afternoon, when he lifted his mostly cruising starter Anibal Sanchez after only 87 pitches, five innings, nine strikeouts (mostly on changeups, power worshippers), and a 2-1 lead, the last courtesy of Juan Soto’s monstrous two-run homer past the center field fence in the bottom of the first.

All of which followed Sanchez wriggling unscathed out of a ducks-on-the-pond first inning jam. If the only thing spoiling Sanchez’s gig was Max Muncy’s two-strike launch into the right center field bleachers with two out in the top of the fifth, surely Martinez could have kept Sanchez aboard for one more inning.

Well, maybe not. Whenever Sanchez gets a third crack at a lineup the other guys nail a .923 OPS against him. Maybe Martinez really didn’t have that much of a choice if he wanted to protect a 2-1 lead. Especially knowing his bullpen not named Daniel Hudson or Sean Doolittle were the second most self-immolating group in Washington aside from the federal government.

So Martinez reached for Corbin, the third man in his starter-as-reliever series plan. Maybe it was the right move, but there’s no maybe about how wrong the result ended up. Martinez surely thought the third verse would be the same as the first two.

Then he discovered an impostor in Corbin’s uniform.

Whoever was in Nats number 46 Sunday night, the Dodgers battered him for six runs in the top of the sixth and tied a postseason record with seven two-out runs total in the inning, keeping the Nats to only a two-runs-worth reply the rest of the way.

“Anibal was at 87 pitches. He gave us all he had,” said Martinez after the Nats were put out of their misery at last. “We were at a good spot in the lineup, where we thought Corbin could get through it. And his stuff was good . . . But he had every hitter 0-2. He just couldn’t finish.”

If the stuff was good, the command was hit by a mutiny. And then the Dodgers added insult to immolation when Russell Martin, who started the sixth-inning mischief with a two-run double bounding off the left center field fence, batted on 2-1 with David Freese on first in the top of the ninth and Hunter Strickland on the mound—and sent it into the seats above the left field bullpen.

The Nats must be wondering just what they ever did to Martin to make him treat them so disrespectfully. “You try to feast on mistakes,” Martin said after the game. “And he made a few mistakes.”

After actual or alleged Corbin knocked out two strikeouts following Cody Bellinger’s leadoff single, David Freese singled to right for first and third. And Martin on 2-2 sent a nice, low enough slider to the back of left center, leaving room to spare for Bellinger and Freese to come home. Corbin promptly walked pinch hitter Chris Taylor and the Dodgers knew this was an impostor. Enough for another pinch hitter, Enrique Hernandez, to lash a two-run double deep to left.

Feast on mistakes? To these Dodgers this Sunday night Corbin, or whoever snuck into his uniform, looked like a luau.

“That was one of those things,” Muncy said, “where once one guy started doing it, the next cat picked up on it and it just kind of rolled throughout the inning.” Steamrolled, that is.

Corbin didn’t flinch when a swarm of reporters crowded his locker after the game. “It just stinks,” he said in a voice so low, from so much pain, that you might have missed it unless you were in the front row of the swarm. “I feel like I let these guys down.”

The Nats put Muncy aboard on the house, a wise move considering he’d accounted for the first Dodger run in Sanchez’s final inning with a shot into the right center field bleachers. The wisdom lasted only long enough for Martinez to get the impostor out of there, get Wander Suero in, and and get another jolt when Justin Turner hit one into the left center field seats.

Of course, having nobody in the bullpen more reliable than Hudson and Doolittle complicates things. In a four-run hole the Nats weren’t about to burn either of those two. But bringing Strickland in to deal with the Dodgers in the ninth was almost like hiring Ma Barker to command the FBI. Martin’s launch off him was the ninth bomb Strickland’s surrendered in twelve lifetime postseason innings.

“[R]emember the crick that remains in your neck from watching the delicious meatballs Hunter Strickland has been serving up for weeks,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga. “He is now a symbol of this battered bullpen and is slipping into ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ territory.”

“We just have to keep plugging away,” Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki told reporters after the game. “You definitely feel confident. You have the lead. You still have to finish it. That is a good lineup over there. They did their job tonight.”

Suzuki and his Nats need Scherzer to do as close to his normal job as possible Monday. And if they find a ransom demand for the real Patrick Corbin, pay it.

The Mets simplify the hard way

2019-08-10 LuisGuillorme

Luis Guillorme defied his unimpressive rookie slash line to help stun the Nats Saturday night . . .

In ancient times Casey Stengel would see ancient Satchel Paige warming up in the enemy bullpen and exhort his Yankees, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming.” This weekend, the Nationals’ mantra could be, “Get your runs A.S.A.P. Father Time’s predictable compared to these Mets.”

But the Nats don’t really want to know from Father Time, who may be coming sooner than they’d care to know.

Not when they followed a last-minute 7-6 loss Friday night with a 4-3 loss in the next-to-last minute Saturday night. It wasn’t quite the cardiac arrest Friday night was, but it was still enough to tempt them to think of keeping crash carts on call.

Perhaps deploying one out of their bullpen. And another to their manager’s office.

Dave Martinez just didn’t have the heart, or whatever else needed, to send Hunter Strickland—his new bullpen toy, but not even a topic Friday night—out for the eighth inning after Strickland manhandled the Mets in the seventh. But Strickland is two weeks removed from returning from a lat strain that kept him down four months, and Martinez didn’t want to overtax him. Even though he looked smooth enough Saturday night.

This time, his assigned closer Sean Doolittle wasn’t even a topic. Not after the Mets bastinadoed him for four runs in the ninth to win from three runs down Friday night. This Saturday night topic was now Fernando Rodney, the elder, whose previous comparative success against the Mets was two seasons behind and barely visible in the rear view mirror.

But there was Rodney and his trademark, CC Sabathia-like lopsided hat to start the New York eighth. And leading off was a Met rookie, Luis Guillorme, who brought all of a .156/.182/.188 slash line to the plate batting for center fielder Juan Lagares. It should have been meat for Rodney. Instead, he was dead meat.

On a full count, during the making of which Guillorme didn’t even wave his bat, and Rodney didn’t even hint toward throwing the changeup that was once his money pitch and was still reasonably effective, Rodney served Guillorme a meatball. And Guillorme provided the sauce. He sent his first major league home run clean over the right field fence to tie things at three.

Then late-game Mets second base insertion Joe Panik grounded one to short. Sure-handed, sure-footed Nats shortstop Trea Turner had it just as surely. But first baseman Matt Adams mishandled his uncharacteristic low throw, leaving Panik safe to move to second on a followup single lined up the pipe by Jeff McNeil for his first hit of the weekend.

Out came Rodney. In came Daniel Hudson, who’d worked a near-effortless eighth on Friday night. And, after Amed Rosario’s hard grounder pushed the runners to second and third, Pete Alonso checked in at the plate.

The Nats optimist said, we’ll have none of that nonsense this time around. That nonsense, of course, being Alonso drilling Stephen Strasburg for a two-run blast in the fourth Friday night.

The Nats realist said, pick your poison, Davey. Because putting Alonso on to load the pads meant facing J.D. Davis—who’d followed Alonso’s Friday night flog with his own game-tying solo jack in that same fourth. And, who hit one of two consecutive solo bombs in the Saturday night fourth, birthday boy (and former Nat) Wilson Ramos hitting the second of them to tie this game at two.

So Martinez picked Davis. The good news: this time, Davis didn’t reach the seats. The bad news: His fly to right was long and deep enough to send Panik home with what proved the winning run.

And if Martinez couldn’t bear to send Strickland out for a second inning’s work in the bottom of the eighth, Mets manager Mickey Callaway wasn’t as nervous as you might think about sending Seth Lugo out for a second inning’s work in the top of the ninth.

Lugo may have had command issues in the top of the eighth, magnified when Juan Soto hit his second homer of the night, a mammoth drive into the second deck in right, to put the Nats back ahead 3-2. But Callaway gambled that that was just Lugo getting really warmed up. He also wasn’t entirely sure about trusting Edwin Diaz, who’d warmed up during the eighth.

So Lugo, named the National League’s relief pitcher of the month for July, went out for the ninth. Noisy Citi Field and edgy Nats Nation, wherever they were, said their prayers accordingly.

But former Met Asdrubal Cabrera lined out to right.

And Victor Robles looked at strike three on the outer edge, on a night plate umpire Tripp Gibson gave Nats and Mets pitchers alike a very generous outer strike zone.

Then Gerardo Parra—maybe the Nats’ best pinch hitter and bench representative, entering the game with a .319 career batting average against the Mets—batted for Nats catcher Yan Gomes.

And, after Parra fouled off a 3-1 service, Lugo caught him looking at strike three.

All of a sudden, Soto’s two-run homer off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the top of the first seemed a small memory to plague Mets fans. Just the way Davis and Ramos’s fourth-inning destruction (setting a new Mets team record for consecutive multiple homer games) seemed to Nats Nation after Soto teed off in the top of the eighth.

Once again, the Mets found a way, any way,  past or around the Nats’ effective starting pitchers, in Saturday night’s case Patrick Corbin. Once again, the Mets got into a bullpen whose 10.10 ERA against them entering Saturday night meant giving them at least one definite victim against who they could fire whatever bullets happened to be handy.

And once again, the Nats couldn’t find a way to make anything stick, even on a night Syndergaard had to shake off an early explosion and some early inconsistency to keep them off the scoreboard further for the rest of his seven innings’ work. Not even on a night when Corbin was mostly his calmly effective self through six.

The Nats compelled the Mets to do things the hard way, late but their bullpen, retooling and all, showed it still had major kinks to un-kink. But the Mets didn’t exactly seem to object to doing things the hard way. It’s coming easier for them that way.

Now, it may not be a question of whether these still-somewhat-flawed Mets can hang with the big boys yet. But it may be a question as to whether these Nats will hang. With the big boys, or at the end of their own noose.

The Angels win with overloaded hearts

2019-07-03 TrevorCahill

Angels relief pitcher Trevor Cahill gives a salute to the late Tyler Skaggs. Showing class to burn, the Rangers installed Skaggs’ uniform number—in the Angels’ uniform font—behind their pitching rubber in memorial tribute for Tuesday’s game.

A teammate dies without warning as a season comes to within sight of the halfway marker. Your scheduled road opponent is gracious enough to cancel the game scheduled that night out of respect for your loss. The grief within your clubhouse and your front office is too real to suppress. And back home your fans are laying out item after item, flower after flower, message after message in your teammate and friend’s memory.

“LTBU in heaven!” said a scrawl on one souvenir batting helmet left among the memory gifts, referring to Angel fans’ customary call (Light that baby up!) after Angels wins, to light the halo around the original stadium big A scoreboard now implanted in the back parking lot.

Angel fans get to mourn Tyler Skaggs a little longer than the Angels themselves in terms of the schedule, because the Angels still had a game to play against the Rangers in Arlington Tuesday night.

Whether you’re in the depth of a pennant race, on the race’s fringes, or headed for the repose where the also-rans will commiserate when it’s all over, you know in your heart of hearts, gut of guts, and mind of minds, that the young man you mourn would rather you suit up, shape up, and step up on the mound, at the plate, on the bases, in the field, than spend more than a single day’s grief without playing the game he loved with you.

So the Angels did what they knew their lost brother wanted. They suited up, shaped up, stepped up, with Skaggs’s uniform number (45) on a small round black patch on their jerseys’ left breasts. They carried Skaggs’s Angels jersey for a pre-game moment of silence in his honour.

“It was just kind of something unplanned. His jersey was hanging in his locker. We wanted to take him out there with us one more time,” said pitcher Andrew Heaney later. “He was definitely my best friend. There’s probably about 100 other people out there that would say he was their best friend, too, because he treated everybody like that.”

His best friends beat the Rangers, 9-4, on a night during which the Rangers showed the Angels such respect as canning the walkup music and others among the normal rackets for Ranger feats at home. The Rangers even installed a red number 45 behind the pitching rubber. In the Angels’ uniform font. To do Skaggs and his team honour.

And not a single Angel tried to hide his grief at a post-game conference.

Their all-everything center fielder, Mike Trout, spent most of the game walking three times and scoring on a base hit. Maybe the single greatest star in the Angels’ firmament, ever, Trout couldn’t get through a simple expression of what Skaggs meant to himself and their team without several chokings back of tears.

“Lost a teammate, lost a friend, a brother, we just got to get through it,” he said shakily. “He was an unbelievable person. It’s all about him. Husband of Carli, what a sweet girl, Debbie his mom, you know, a good relationship with them. You know, it’s just a tough, you know, 24 hours.

“We’re getting through it, tough playing out there today, but like Brad [Ausmus, the Angels’ manager] said earlier, Skaggs, you know, he wouldn’t want us to take another day off,” Trout continued. “The energy he brought into this clubhouse, you know, every time you saw him he’d pick you up. It’s going to be tough, you know, these next couple of days, the rest of the season, the rest of our lives, you know, to lose a friend . . . All these guys in here, you know, I see these guys more than my family. To lose somebody like him is tough.”

In Washington, Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin, close friends with Skaggs since their Diamondbacks days, switched his uniform from 46 to Skaggs’s 45. Then he went out to pitch his regular turn, his manager Dave Martinez saying it was just about all Corbin could do. Corbin himself affirmed it after the Nats beat the Marlins, 3-2, Trea Turner walking it off with an RBI hit.

“When you have a loss, you want to keep things as normal as you can and just try to go out there and do what you have to do,” Corbin said after that game. But he never said it would be easy to pitch through the memories of their being drafted together by the Angels, traded together to the Diamondbacks, and in each other’s wedding parties this past offseason.

Corbin not only changed his uniform number to Skaggs’s but scratched the number in the dirt behind the mound before he managed to pitch seven innings despite being disrupted by a rain delay of over an hour, surrendering one run, no walks, and seven strikeouts.

Another Nat had personal ties to Skaggs. Adam Eaton played in the fall instructional leagues with Skaggs. And they were eventually traded away from the Diamondbacks in the same three-way deal that returned Skaggs to the Angels and sent Eaton to the White Sox.

“Saw his debut. Saw his first hit. Saw his first strikeout. Know his wife. My wife knows his family. It’s just . . . I’m not quite sure it’s hit me yet,” the outfielder said, shades covering his teary eyes. “My family, our hearts go out to his family. He’s kind of kicked us in the pants in his passing that we need to take every day as it’s our last and enjoy our family and love our family and what’s important in our life, and know that we’re blessed to play this game every day. That’s the gift he’s given us, even after.”

As for the Angels, they started the game with a first-inning, run-scoring ground out before a first-inning sacrifice fly, a third-inning solo homer, and a double steal including home put the Rangers up 3-1. The Angels tied it in the fifth on a base hit that turned into two runs home on an outfield throwing error; a four-run sixth—an RBI single, a runner-advancing throwing error, another RBI single, and a sacrifice fly—put them ahead to stay.

The Rangers got their final run on another sacrifice fly, and the Angels got their final two when shortstop Andrelton Simmons opened the top of the eighth with a walk and, one out later, right fielder Kole Calhoun drove a middle-high fastball parabolically over the right center field fence. The win pulled the Angels back to .500 and to within four games of the American League wild card hunt.

Those small details were probably the last things on their minds Tuesday night. They might be a little more concerned for Tommy La Stella, their breakout All-Star, who had to leave the game in the sixth after fouling a pitch off his right leg below his knee. But La Stella probably thought his injury was tiny compared to the wrench in the team’s hearts.

“It’s bigger than the game. The friendship and the love I had for him and his family, it’s more than that,” Trout said.

“Today it was just different,” said Calhoun after the game, “and there’s no playbook on how it’s supposed to go today and you’re supposed to act and react. But getting back to the game definitely is what he would have wanted. Today was a day that we leaned on each other like we really needed to do.”

The same thing happened ten years earlier, after rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver while out celebrating after a splendid first start of the season. The day after Adenhart’s death, the Angels beat the Red Sox, 6-3, in Angel Stadium. The win was only partial comfort then just as it was Tuesday night in Arlington.

It doesn’t always work that way.

Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died unexpectedly of a heart attack in June 2002, while the Cardinals were in Chicago to play the Cubs. The following day, they lost to the Cubs, 8-2, with the Cubs scoring all eight before the eighth inning including a four-run sixth, and the Cardinals able to muster only two in the eighth—on future Hall of Famer (and current Angel) Albert Pujols’s two-run homer—and one in the ninth on an RBI single.

When Yankee catcher Thurman Munson was killed in the crash of his own aircraft, the Yankees played the Orioles the day after and lost a 1-0 heartbreaker in Yankee Stadium. In a game featuring three future Hall of Famers (Eddie Murray, Reggie Jackson, and Goose Gossage) and a pitching duel between Scott McGregor of the Orioles and Luis Tiant of the Yankees, the lone run came when John Lowenstein hammered a Tiant service over the fence.

A year earlier, Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock was murdered while on a visit to Gary, Indiana, in a car, when a man fired at the car hoping to hit his estranged wife, whom he suspected having an involvement, shall we say, with another man in the car. The next day, the Angels beat the Brewers in extra innings, Carney Lansford singling home Danny Goodwin with two out in the tenth.

Death in season sometimes rallies teams and other times knocks them apart. Maybe no death in Reds’ history was as shocking as the 2 August 1940 suicide of reserve catcher Will Hershberger—whose own father had committed suicide previously. Blaming himself for a doubleheader loss, Hershberger reportedly told manager Bill McKechnie more than that troubled him but nothing to do with the team, and McKechnie never disclosed the rest.

The Reds played another doubleheader the day after Hershberger’s death. They swept the Boston Braves (then known as the Bees), then went on to win the pennant with a 23-8 September before beating the Tigers in seven in the World Series. McKechnie publicly dedicated the rest of the season and the pennant chase to Hershberger, and the Reds awarded a full winning World Series share to Hershberger’s mother while they were at it.

And when Indians shortstop Ray Chapman died after being coned by Carl Mays’s fastball in 1920, the stricken Tribe—with just a little help from the explosion of the Eight Men Out being taken out in Chicago at almost season’s end—ended up winning the pennant and the World Series.

The 1955 Red Sox were headed only to a fourth place finish but they suffered the unexpected death of promising young first baseman Harry Agganis to a pulmonary embolish on 27 June that year. The following day, the Red Sox swept the Washington Senators in a doubleheader compelled by a rainout earlier that season. The scores were 4-0 in the opener and 8-2 in the nightcap.

These Angels may or may not band up and make a surprise run to the postseason from here. But they honoured their effervescent pitching teammate now gone in the only coin all accounts suggest Skaggs would have accepted. They played ball. And they beat a team who probably didn’t really mind getting their tails kicked for just one night, because the grief felt around baseball over Skaggs’s unexpected death was just too real.

“We knew what they were dealing with on the other side,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said after the game. “We were trying to comprehend the impact something like that would have on our ball club. I can’t even describe the feelings they were having. Obviously, it wasn’t our best game, but clearly it affected us in some way. Honestly, I don’t know how to describe that feeling. It was just kind of obvious they deserved to win.”

“We know we’ve got an angel watching over us now,” Calhoun said. “When I got to the plate, it felt right to pay some respect to him, and like I said, we know we’ve got somebody watching over us up there.” Somebody who didn’t deserve to die at 27.