After Tyler Skaggs' death, baseball gods smile on Angels in the outfield and on the pitcher's mound

Baseball is a religion all its own, full of traditions, rituals and unexplained miracles.

Anybody who ever has seen the movie “Field of Dreams” — or watched the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs finally claim World Series titles — knows that. (Eventually, my beloved Texas Rangers have to win the big one, right?)

Sometimes, the gods — the baseball gods — make their presence known in ways that even nonbelievers must find impossible to ignore.

How else to explain what happened in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday night?

Here’s how ESPN described what happened:

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 Hetman, 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.

A Hollywood ending?

Nope.

It was more than that, said MLB.com:

ANAHEIM -- It was the kind of night that wouldn’t even sound believable if it were made up 35 miles northwest of Angel Stadium in Hollywood.

It wasn’t quite a perfect game, but the Angels honored the late Tyler Skaggs in a perfect way Friday, as Taylor Cole and Felix Peña combined to throw the 11th no-hitter in franchise history while every Angels player was wearing Skaggs’ No. 45 jersey in a 13-0 win over the Mariners at Angel Stadium.

In their first home game since Skaggs’ death at 27 years old on July 1, and with a growing make-shift memorial outside the ballpark, the Angels paid tribute to Skaggs with a touching pregame ceremony that featured his mother, Debbie, throwing a perfect ceremonial first pitch. It set the tone for an incredible effort from Cole, serving as the opener, and Pena, as the two combined to surrender just one walk. Omar Narvaez was the lone player to reach base for Seattle, drawing a four-pitch walk against Pena in the fifth. The no-hitter was completed just hours before what would have been Skaggs’ 28th birthday.

Oh, by the way, Trout hit a home run in the first inning.

How far did it travel?

The Athletic has that crucial detail:

But he stood in the batter’s box Friday against Mike Leake, with Skaggs’ No. 45 on his back, and took a first-pitch fastball center-cut at 89.8 mph and rifled it to the rocks. In un-Troutian fashion, he sat and watched this ball travel — fittingly, the ball came off his bat at 111 mph and landed a serendipitous 454 feet. He took 28 seconds to round the bases, longer than he ever has, milking every second of the home run in his friend’s jersey.

Let’s see: 454 feet. Either direction you start, there’s a “45” there.

Believe in baseball gods yet?

The Mariners’ manager certainly does. More from MLB.com:

Said Mariners manager Scott Servais: “There’s baseball gods, I’ve always said it. You know, it’s a crazy game we play. There’s a lot of emotion tied to it. You’re very close with the relationships you have with the people that you spend so much time with over the course of a season and a career, so it’s crazy how things happen.”

It’s not the first time the baseball gods have made an appearance after a player’s tragic death, as noted by The Athletic:

It was Skaggs who, as Trout said, always had that smirk. Be it to sarcastically cut you and break you down from a moment of unease or simply a smile aimed at lifting your spirits, Skaggs carried that with him.

The Angels have attempted to match this energy, to rally forward and together. In some ways, an already-close unit has become even closer.

But few could have imagined the magic of Friday night. Wearing their friend’s name on their backs and carrying his memory in their hearts, the Angels played as pristine a game as one could possibly imagine. They honored his pitching with a brilliant performance of their own. They crushed baseballs. They remembered him.

These days aren’t easy. They aren’t supposed to be. That wasn’t lost on anyone in the ballpark.

“I got one thing to say, and I said it three years ago, and I’m going to be done with it,” said Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon, who hit a leadoff home run in the Marlins’ first game after losing José Fernández in 2016. “If you don’t believe in God, you might want to start. I said it three years ago when I hit the homer for José. They had a no-hitter today. Y’all better start. That’s all I got.”

Before the game, Skaggs’ mother, Debbie, stepped to the mound. She threw a perfect strike on a ceremonial first pitch.

The baseball gods wouldn’t have it any other way.

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