ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Angels have had 12 days to process the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, to hug each other and cry on each other’s shoulders, to mourn and bond together while playing six games on the road, to grieve with their own family members over the four-day All-Star break.
Friday night, the tragic loss of their 27-year-old teammate hit home. Literally.
Playing in Angel Stadium for the first time since Skaggs was found unresponsive in a Southlake, Texas, hotel room on July 1, and with each player donning a No. 45 jersey with the name “SKAGGS” on the back, the Angels honored their former teammate with a storybook pitching performance that would make Skaggs proud.
Taylor Cole and Felix Pena threw the second combined no-hitter in franchise history in a 13-0 rout of the Seattle Mariners before a crowd of 43,140, Cole opening with two perfect innings and Pena following with seven no-hit innings in which he walked one, a four-pitch free pass to Omar Narvaez in the fifth.
The closest Seattle came to a hit was a Mac Williamson hard grounder toward the shortstop hole to lead off the sixth inning. Rookie third baseman Matt Thaiss, a converted first baseman who began playing third at triple-A Salt Lake this season, made a diving stop to his left, got up and threw out Williamson at first.
Pena got the final two outs of the sixth, struck out two of three in a one-two-three seventh and retired the side in order in the eighth. Pena got Williamson to fly out and Dee Gordon to ground out in the ninth.
With the crowd on its feet and sensing history, Mallex Smith hit a hard grounder to second baseman Luis Rengifo, who had entered the game for defensive purposes to begin the ninth.
Rengifo bobbled the grounder but recovered in time to throw to first to complete the 11th overall no-hitter in club history.
The Angels poured out of their dugout to mob Pena, and after exchanging hugs and high-fives, the players took off their No. 45 jerseys and arranged them on the mound before saying a prayer in Skaggs’ memory. They left the jerseys there as they departed the field, with a painting of Skaggs covering the rubber.
“That was pretty special, one of the most special moments I’ve been a part of in 25 years,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “We feel like it’s partly Skaggsy’s no-hitter.”
Said Pena in Spanish: “We now have an Angel protecting us from above.”
Neither Cole nor Pena pitched with any stress, as the Angels blitzed Seattle starter Mike Leake for seven runs and eight hits in the first inning, including a mammoth two-run homer and a two-run double by Mike Trout, who became the first Angel in 25 years to collect two extra-base hits in the first inning of a game.
Trout followed David Fletcher’s leadoff double by crushing a first-pitch sinker 454 feet to center field for his 29th homer of the season.
The former minor league roommate of Skaggs—the two were drafted by the Angels in 2009—took 28 seconds to round the bases—his slowest home run trot of any since Statcast began tracking such information in 2015. After crossing the plate, Trout looked and nodded toward the owner’s suite, where Skaggs’ family members were sitting.
Trout capped the rally with a two-run double to left. He drove in his fifth run when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the second and his sixth with an RBI double in the fifth. Justin Upton added a two-run homer in the seventh.
The day began on a much somber note, with players filing into the home clubhouse for the first time since Skaggs’ death.
“It’s definitely tough seeing his locker,” Fletcher said. “You get emotional. At times, you still think it’s unreal.”
The Angels returned from the All-Star break to find an image of Skaggs preparing to throw a pitch was affixed to the same spot on the center-field wall that once bore a picture of Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher who died during the 2009 season. Skaggs’ No. 45 was painted behind the pitcher’s mound.
An emotional 10-minute pregame ceremony included a video tribute to Skaggs, a 45-second moment of silence to honor the left-hander, and a perfect strike of a ceremonial first pitch thrown by Skaggs’ mother, Debbie, to pitcher Andrew Heaney, one of Skaggs’ best friends on the team.
“Being in here, I’m constantly reminded of him,” reliever Noe Ramirez said. “I’m trying to celebrate him, to not have a really depressed energy. I just think about what he was like and what he would want and for us. To be sad all the time, that’s not something he would do. It’s tough. It’s tough to talk about.”
Kevin Jepsen experienced the same kind of feelings a decade ago that the Angels had on Friday. He was a rookie reliever in 2009 when Adenhart, one of Jepsen’s best friends and a locker mate, was killed by a drunken driver just three days into that season.
Jepsen, who was also an Angels teammate of Skaggs in 2014, said returning to the home clubhouse will re-open some wounds that probably began to heal over the past week and a half.
“Absolutely, 100%,” said Jepsen, who retired in 2018 after a 10-year big-league career. “They’re gonna see Skaggs’ locker ... and feel like, ‘Is he gonna walk through that door?’ It almost seems like it’s not real, because one day he’s there, one day he’s not.”
It will take weeks, if not months, for those feelings to subside, Jepsen said, because Skaggs, one of the most popular players on the club and the veteran leader of the pitching staff, was such an integral part of the team’s fabric.
“Guys eat lunch together, they all kind of get there at the same time and shoot the breeze, maybe Skaggs played ping-pong and had a regular partner,” Jepsen said. “There are all these little things that as baseball players are part of our routines. And whether we notice or not, we kind of do the same stuff every single day. We sit at the same table, in the same chair with the same people.
“All that stuff is now going to bring up memories, and then they’ll notice that Skaggs never shows up at the table, Skaggs never meets them in the lunch room to play ping-pong, he’s not there for pitchers meetings and weight-lifting, all those things that you notice more at home as opposed to when you’re away. It’s gonna be a tough next few months for those guys. I feel for them.”