ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout shook his head.
“You can’t,” he said, pausing for a moment to gather himself. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
The Los Angeles Angels scored seven first-inning runs Friday night. They finished with 13. Tyler Skaggs’ birthday is on the 13th day of the seventh month, which just so happens to be Saturday.
“I’m speechless,” Trout said. “This is the best way to honor him.”
The Angels honored Skaggs with an emotional ceremony before their first home game since his sudden death on July 1. They honored him by donning his No. 45 jersey. They honored him by inviting his mother, Debbie, onto the field for the ceremonial first pitch. And they honored him, improbably, with a combined no-hitter, delivered by Taylor Cole and Felix Pena in a 13-0 trouncing of the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium.
Angels manager Brad Ausmus called it “one of the most special moments I’ve been a part of on a major league field in 25 years.”
“You feel like it’s partly Skaggsy’s no-hitter,” he said.
It stood as the 11th no-hitter in Angels history and the first since Jered Weaver, who spent most of his career grieving the tragic death of Nick Adenhart, blanked the Minnesota Twins on May 2, 2012. Cole took the first two innings and Pena dominated through the final seven as they combined to strike out eight batters and issue only one walk.
Together, they contributed the first combined no-hitter in the state of California since the Baltimore Orioles did it on the road against the Oakland Athletics on July 13, 1991, the day Skaggs was born.
“This is all for him,” Pena said in Spanish during an on-field interview. “I feel like we have an angel looking down on us.”
Skaggs, 27, died in his hotel room in Texas 11 days earlier. A release from the Southlake Police Department stated that foul play wasn’t suspected, and a police spokesperson ruled out suicide. But the cause of death will not be known until the autopsy is completed in early October.
“At this point, I don’t really care,” Ausmus said before the game. “His loss is his loss, and there’s an emptiness regardless of the cause. I’m not in any rush to find out. All I know is Tyler Skaggs is no longer here. He had a lot of friends and family that cared about him a lot. The reason he died isn’t what hurts; the fact that he died is what hurts.”
Skaggs was a local product who was drafted 40th overall out of high school by the Angels in 2009 then found his way back in 2014 after three years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Tommy John surgery followed shortly thereafter, and occasional struggles arose from time to time. But Skaggs was at his best leading up to the time of his death, with a 1.62 ERA over his final 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 canceled their game last Monday then continued on with their final six games of the first half, splitting them against the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, two teams ahead of them in the division.
When players returned from the All-Star break Friday, they saw the shrine that was built by fans in front of the main gate of Angel Stadium, filled with caps, candles and handwritten 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 lockers.
“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.”
Mike Trout delivers an emotional reflection on the Angels’ no-hit performance in their first home game since Tyler Skaggs’ death.
Debbie walked toward the Angels’ dugout with her arm around Skaggs’ wife, Carli, and her stepson, Garret Hetman, who was wearing Skaggs’ Santa Monica High School jersey, by her side. Debbie made the rounds in the dugout, hugging Trout, Andrew Heaney and Kole Calhoun, among others, while Carli sat on the bench next to the framed Skaggs jersey that would be carried onto the field. A video montage played, followed by a 45-second moment of silence.
A longtime softball coach who ignited Skaggs’ love for the game, Debbie was noticeably anxious about her first pitch as she boarded the elevator that would take her down to the field a few minutes earlier.
“I hope I make him proud,” she said.
She delivered a perfect strike to Heaney, Skaggs’ closest friend on the team.
“Everybody who knows her knows how strong she is,” Heaney said. “If you know anything about her, you can understand why Tyler was how he was — extremely self-confident, strong-willed, hard-working. She is definitely the epitome of that. And if anybody had any question about where Skaggs got his ability to throw off the mound, it was evident tonight.”
The Angels scorched Mariners starter Mike Leake from the onset, stringing together eight hits while bringing 13 batters to the plate in the bottom of the first. Trout knocked in four runs, first with a two-run homer and then with a bases-loaded double, the highlights of a game that saw him reach base five times and drive in six runs. The Angels’ star center fielder is batting .407 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in the seven games he has played since the death of his friend.
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 before the game. “This kid — or this young man — has just continued to be there for everybody.”
The no-hitter was preserved dramatically at the start of the sixth inning, when Matt Thaiss — a rookie who started playing third base this season — dove to his left, snared a hard grounder off the bat of Mac Williamson and fired accurately to first base. The final out was recorded by Luis Rengifo, a defensive replacement who entered in the ninth inning and quickly ranged to his right to get in front of a sharp one-hopper hit by Mallex Smith.
Afterward, at the suggestion of hitting coach Jeremy Reed, then approved by Trout and Justin Upton, the Angels took off their Skaggs jerseys and laid them out on the mound for what became the lasting snapshot of an improbable night.
His loss will continue to hurt, but winning like this, and celebrating Skaggs in this way, could change everything.
“For us, I would say it’s probably like emotionally therapeutic,” Heaney said. “After the game, you run out to the field, everybody’s celebrating. And three hours earlier, I don’t know about everybody else, but I had tears in my eyes.”