Angels throw no-hitter on night to honor Skaggs

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels honored their late teammate, Tyler Skaggs, in the best way possible Friday night. They all wore his No. 45 jersey onto the field, played a video montage on the giant video board, brought his mother out to the pitcher’s mound, then put together one of the most impressive, inspired performances of the 2019 season.

Two pitchers, Taylor Cole and Felix Pena, teamed up to no-hit the Seattle Mariners in a 13-0 victory at Angel Stadium in the Angels’ first home game since Skaggs died in his hotel room in Texas on July 1. Cole worked two perfect innings to open the game and Pena dominated through the final seven, allowing just one fifth-inning walk.

They each pitched with the comfort of a massive lead, the product of a seven-run first inning that saw Mike Trout drive in four runs by himself — two on a home run, then two on a double.

After Seattle’s Mallex Smith grounded out to second base to end it, the Angels took off their jerseys with Skaggs’ name and number on the back and arrayed them on the pitcher’s mound.

Skaggs was a local product who was drafted 40th overall out of high school by the Angels in 2009, then found his way back here in 2014 after three years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Tommy John surgery followed shortly thereafter and the occasional struggles arose from time to time. But Skaggs was at his best leading up to the time of his passing, with a 1.62 ERA over his last three starts. He was emerging as the best pitcher in the Angels’ rotation.

“He became the ace of the staff,” said Angels broadcaster Mark Gubicza, the former All-Star pitcher who forged a close bond with Skaggs. “He’d really figured out how to pitch.”

The Angels cancelled their game on the day of Skaggs’ death, then continued on with their final six games of the first half, splitting them against the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros, two teams ahead of them in the division.

When players returned from the All-Star break on Friday, they saw the shrine that was built by fans in front of the main gate of Angel Stadium now filled with caps and candles and hand-written letters. They saw images of Skaggs everywhere, including on the center-field wall.

They saw his locker preserved in its usual spot. They saw his No. 45 painted behind the pitcher’s mound. And they found their own No. 45 jersey hanging in their own locker.

“Tonight’s about him,” Angels infielder Zack Cozart said. “We’re going to do what we can to honor him and keep his legacy going.”

Trout ultimately reached base five times and drove in six runs. He is batting .407 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in the seven games he has played since the death of one of his closest friends.

In that time, Angels general manager Billy Eppler has seen Trout emerge as a leader.

“His shoulders are broad because he carries around a lot,” Eppler said prior to the game. “This kid — or this young man — has just continued to be there for everybody.”

Before the game, Debbie Skaggs was noticeably anxious as she boarded the elevator that would take her to the field for the heart-wrenching ceremony to honor her son. She was to deliver the ceremonial first pitch to Andrew Heaney, her son’s best friend on the team.

“I hope I make him proud,” Debbie, a longtime high school softball coach who in many ways inspired Tyler’s love of baseball, said from the suite level of Angel Stadium.

She threw a perfect strike, without hesitation, then took four steps to the edge of the mound, brought her hands together and looked up to the heavens.

Minutes later, she watched as Skaggs’ teammates honored him in the best way possible.

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