Hearts Still Heavy After Tyler Skaggs’ Death, Angels Play Best Baseball Of Season

Image credit: (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — It’s been 24 days since Tyler Skaggs died. Twenty-four days since the Angels lost a teammate, a friend and, much less important in the grand scheme of life, their best starting pitcher this season.

The memories of that awful July 1 afternoon when Skaggs was found dead in his Southlake, Texas hotel room at age 27 are still too fresh—too real—for the pain to have been dulled by time. Only three days ago the Angels said goodbye to their friend at a memorial service at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica, Calif., Skaggs’ hometown.

It’s been an emotional month for the Angels, one that has tested the club in so many ways.

They’ve responded by honoring Skaggs the best way they can—by playing their best baseball of the season.

The Angels beat the Dodgers, 3-2, on Wednesday night to improve to 54-49, a season-high five games over .500. They are four games back of an American League wild card spot, the closest they’ve been since the season’s opening weeks. They are 12-6 in July, their best record of any month.

That includes their magical no-hitter in their first home game after Skaggs’ death, with every member of the team wearing a Skaggs No. 45 jersey on their backs.

“You never know which way a ballclub is going to go or respond to a tragedy like that,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “Sometimes it can inspire them and they play well, sometimes it can go the other direction. I think, fortunately, the character of the guys we have has pushed them to respond in the fashion that we’ve played. They’ve really done an excellent job of, when they’re on the field, focusing on baseball when it’s very hard to focus.”

Leading the way, of course, has been Mike Trout. The Angels’ heart and soul became the lead spokesman for the team in the wake of Skaggs’ death. He was the first player to address the media in Texas after the Angels played their first game following Skaggs’ death. He spent most of All-Star week speaking with the national media about what Skaggs meant to him and the Angels franchise as a whole.

And on the field, he’s been as good as ever, batting .291 with 11 home runs in 15 games since the Angels resumed play on July 2.

“It’s been tough,” Trout said. “Obviously, we don’t want to be in this situation. But we’ve got a great group of guys, great coaches, great people in this clubhouse. We’re keeping our focus on that.

“It brought us together. Obviously, you don’t know what you have until you lose somebody. Every guy in here, we all came together and we’re playing good ball right now. It’s what you need, guys to be like that and come together in these tough times.”

Others have stepped up as well. Kole Calhoun, the oft-mentioned subject of trade rumors, hit two doubles and a home run to carry the Angels over the Dodgers on Wednesday and is batting .323 with six homers in July. Albert Pujols has hit .292 with an .814 OPS. David Fletcher and Shohei Ohtani have OPS numbers north of .800 as well.

“It’s something that definitely shook us big time,” Calhoun said. “You can go one of two directions, and I think everybody chose to really pull together and be there for one another and it’s kind of showing on the field too. We’re playing good ball right now and pulling for each other. That’s kind of what we decided to do as a ballclub.”

The Angels still hang up Skaggs’ No. 45 jersey in his fully furnished locker before every game. They take his jersey out to the dugout with them at game time.

Team-wide, they wear undershirts with the phrase, “We’re Nasty”—a favorite saying of Skaggs’—adorning the front and Skaggs’ No. 45 centered between their shoulder blades on the back. Patches with Skaggs’ name and number have been sewn onto their jerseys, and many players have written Skaggs’ number on their hats in black Sharpie as well.

From almost any vantage point in the Angels’ clubhouse or dugout, there is a reminder of Skaggs in one way or another.

That’s exactly how the players want it.

“We’re always thinking about him,” Trout said. “Once you get out there and play, you just try to think about baseball. Here and there you see things that remind you of him.

“We’ll get through it, but he’s always watching us.”

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