A week after the loss of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, the LA Angels have resiliently continued to play the game they love, showing the strong bonds between teammates. The show went on Tuesday.
After cancelling the series opener vs the Texas Rangers Monday, the LA Angels returned to the field the next day, seeking a sense of normalcy in a time of loss. What was there was routine: the regal red alternate uniforms of the Angels, the Sun shining over an Arlington summer afternoon.
What was missing was the usual looseness of a game: the smiles and laughing, the pounding music, the hyped up announcers. What came instead was a solemnity, one which filled the air with a spiritual humidity, a tangible feeling that something was very different.
One needed to look no further than those red jerseys to remember why. Each bore a black circle with a white number 45 inside, and the mound was graciously painted by the home grounds crew with a red 45, done even in the correct Angels font with a blue outline.
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And there, on a quiet evening with their incredibly gracious hosts, the Rangers, the Angels took the field, seeking to grasp a feeling of normalcy on a road trip that had started lightheartedly, the team wearing cowboy and Western themed clothes (an idea from Skaggs himself), and quickly turned tragic.
“Like I said, once the game starts it actually is a refuge because it takes your mind off it, it distracts you for a little while,” manager Brad Ausmus said during an earlier media availability.
It was a theme for the Angels headed into the game. To celebrate their departed friend, brother, teammate, and to use the game they love as a respite from the crushing loss they suffered.
What came next was inspiring. The Angels, after a night in which they understandably barely slept, if at all, defeated the Rangers 9-4. Teammates who are stuck on the road together in the darkest of times, came together in a team win they, and the organization and fans, will never forget. Tears fell, hugs were exchanged, and nearly every single player contributed greatly to win in the spirit of the departed Skaggs.
Afterwards, in another memorable moment, several Angels appeared together in the first players’ media availability of the road trip.
“We lost a teammate, we lost a friend, a brother,” began Mike Trout, his head down, voice shaking.
“My first at-bat, I get up there, all I do is think about him…. It’s bigger than the game. The friendship and love I had for him and his family, it’s more than that.”
Kole Calhoun, who memorably pointed at the sky following his home run that night, spoke next, saying “We know we’ve got an angel watching over us now,”, while also reaffirming Ausmus’s statement that morning that there is no playbook on how to handle these situations.
It was Andrew Heaney next, who struggled for composure while describing why he wanted to bring Skaggs’ jersey onto the field for a pregame moment of silence and the National Anthem. “His jersey was hanging in his locker and we wanted to take him out there with us one more time. He meant so much to all of us, he was definitely my best friend,” a distraught Heaney said to assembled media.
On Wednesday, Mike Trout caught fire, looking revitalized and rested on a two home run night, one which sparked the Halos to another decisive win over the Rangers, 6-2. Jaime Barria came up from AAA Salt Lake, pitching solidly for the win.
Thursday’s series finale saw the Angels looking emotionally exhausted, perhaps ready to leave town. Griffin Canning, the young rookie who had described Tyler Skaggs as a big brother to him, made the start in his absence, starting off very strong before being chased off by a Rougned Odor home run and Carlos Santana single in the 4th. Images of a visibly upset Canning being consoled by teammates in the dugout shook Angels fans, especially with the knowledge the club had three more games on the road before finally being able to go home.
Those doubts were erased Friday as the Angels found new headspace in Houston, finally out of Arlington. The Halos chased Justin Verlander, with Kole Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons, and Shohei Ohtani, celebrating his 25th birthday, homering off the future Hall of Famer. Mike Trout would add a shot in the 8th as the Angels prevailed 5-4.
Despair has been replaced by inspiration and determination, as time and a change of scenery has allowed the Angels to begin the lengthy healing process. Baseball, a central piece of all their lives, has become a welcome distraction, a focal point for energy, and an avenue to best pay tribute to Skaggs.
“Obviously, it’s good to get back into things, but we’re still thinking about him,” Trout told reporters after the game. “He’s watching over us and (we’re) just going out there playing for him.”
Gerrit Cole would dominate the Angels Saturday night in a 4-0 loss, throwing seven innings of three-hit ball. Andrew Heaney would pay tribute to his best friend’s famous curveball by lobbing a long, slow overhand curve for his first pitch of the game. Heaney would also pitch reasonably well, allowing two earned runs over five innings pitched.
“I thought it’d be kind of cool,” Heaney responded when asked about his tribute. “When you talk about Skaggs in the baseball world, everybody — the first thing they would think about — would be his curveball. That was his claim to fame. Honestly, it was just something that felt right.”
Sunday saw the Angels take a commanding 7-2 lead, only to allow Houston to tie the game 8-8 on a 6th inning Yuli Gurriel grand slam. The Halos would take the lead again, 10-8 in the 8th on Mike Trout’s second home run of the day, before allowing the Astros to tie again, then apparently take the lead on a George Springer sacrifice fly, though Jake Marisnick was called out for initiating contact, leaving the game tied.
Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who has stepped up as a veteran leader in these tough times, was seriously injured, carted off the field after being bowled over by Marisnick.
Though the game ended on a George Springer walk off single in the 10th, and an 11-10 loss headed into the break was a tough one to take, the Angels maintained their fighting spirit, never giving up on what was an incredibly difficult road trip.
After that Tuesday win, the players were asked how Tyler Skaggs would celebrate a big win like this. Justin Upton walked to the microphone, and said, “Right now, he’d be saying, ‘We’re nasty.”
“We’re nasty!” he repeated for emphasis, and his teammates, for a brief moment, forgot their sorrows. Laughs were heard.
The Angels have finished the most difficult road trip of their lives. They return with three wins, and took the Astros down to the wire for a second series win on the trip. They finally return home.
They do so with a new rallying cry, and a fighting spirit for the second half, as they remember Tyler Skaggs.