On July 12, eleven days after 27-year-old Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his Texas hotel room before a game against the Rangers, his grieving teammates played the first of a three-game home series against the Seattle Mariners. The Angels honored Skaggs in their first home game since his death by all wearing his No. 45 jersey and having his mother throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Nine innings later, two Los Angeles pitchers had remarkably combined to no-hit Seattle.
Here, then, are the Angels themselves, in their own words, describing the night they paid tribute, in a way that will almost certainly never be duplicated, to a player who was more than a teammate.
Matt Thaiss, Angels infielder: I never got the chance to play with him up here. But I’ve been a non-roster invitee to spring training all three years he’s been here. When you walk into that clubhouse and you’ve got guys like Albert (Pujols) and Mike (Trout), it can be a little intimidating to walk in there. (Skaggs) didn’t have to go out of his way to come say hi to me, to make sure I was having a good day. He did that every day. I was 21-years-old. That’s the kind of guy he was.
Mike Trout, Angels outfielder: Every time you’d go up to him he had that smirk on his face, either sarcastically, or just trying to put a smile on your face.
Shohei Ohtani, Angels DH/pitcher (via translator): We both have the same agent. He always looked out for me to make me feel comfortable. He was like a big brother to me.
Felix Peña, Angels pitcher (via translator): Our relationship started last season when I got here. We talked a lot, he gave me a lot of advice. This season when I made the team it got stronger. We talked every outing. He told me to focus on every pitch. That helped me a lot. It helped me (Friday).
Andrelton Simmons, Angels shortstop: It was his attitude that he brought every day. He was positive, to where you were like, 'Ah it’s just an act.' And later you’re like, 'Nah that’s who he is.'
Doug White, Angels pitching coach: He was the veteran here, him and (Andrew) Heaney. When I was hired here, he was a guy who said, ‘I’m all-in.’ And other guys heard that. It was a great benefit to the team.
Andrew Heaney, Angels pitcher: When I came over (from the Marlins, in 2015), I didn’t know really anybody. I knew of Garrett Richards, he was an (Oklahoma) guy, I went to Oklahoma State. Him and (Skaggs) were close. So that was the crew that I ran with. He was my best friend. There are probably 100 other people who are saying that about him, because–he treated everybody that way. That was who he was.
David Fletcher, Angels infielder: It’s definitely tough seeing his locker. You get emotional. At times you still think it’s unreal.
Heaney: In Texas, (Angels general manager) Billy (Eppler) approached us, a couple of the guys, and asked us what we thought would be the best way to honor him. We all wanted to wear his jersey. We all wanted to wear 45 and his name on our backs. The question was, how?
Keith Tarter, Angels equipment and clubhouse manager: I was given a heads-up that we would possibly be wearing the jerseys. They weren’t sure if they were gonna wear “45” or “SKAGGS 45” … I have enough materials here in case we call someone up (from the minor leagues) but I don’t have 116 number 4s and 116 number 5s, and all the Gs and Ss. I don’t have that many red jerseys. So all I could do was call Majestic, give ‘em a heads-up. They got ‘em to me on (Thursday, July 11th—the day before the game). They had two-and-a-half days to cut 58 jerseys. And two of their seamstresses were at the All Star Game. So they did it shorthanded.
Heaney: (Skaggs’ mother) Debbie (Hetman) texted me over the (All-Star) break, somewhere in the middle of the break, maybe Wednesday. She told me she would be throwing out the first pitch (on July 12) and asked me if I would catch it. I said I would be honored.
Mark Gubicza, Angels TV color commentator: I knew it would be difficult for the players. The first week everyone was in shock, then you have those few days off for the All-Star break, then you come back ten days (after Skaggs’s death) and all the Angel fans are here, along with Tyler’s family …
Brad Ausmus, Angels manager: A couple days after Tyler passed, the routine of the baseball season grabbed hold a little bit and distracted guys … (On Friday) everyone was slapped in the face with the tragedy all over again.
Tarter: We hung the jerseys in their lockers Friday at about 4:00 (three hours before game time). When the guys saw us hanging them up after BP, they go, 'Are we wearing those?' ‘Yeah we’re wearing ‘em. Everybody’s wearing ‘em.’ (The players said), ‘Good.’
Simmons: Tyler’s wife and his mom came in (the clubhouse). We were going through something tough, but they were bearing the maximum weight of it.
Gubicza: Then Debbie went out to the mound. I don’t know how she could bear to stand on the mound, much less try to throw a baseball.
Taylor Cole, Angels pitcher and Friday’s starting pitcher: She went out there and threw an absolute perfect first pitch. It couldn’t have been better.
Simmons: Threw that thing right down the middle. I could put all these pitchers out there and make them throw the first pitch, they won’t place that ball any better than that.
Cole took the mound at 7:18 p.m. The plan was for Cole to pitch two innings, then hand the ball to Peña.
Gubicza: Two guys–an opener and a bulk pitcher–who, y’know, they’ve given up their fair share of hits.
Cole: I felt different from my first pitch, because I knew this was a special game. I wanted to go out there and do my best. That’s what he would want. He wouldn’t expect us to be perfect … When I went 3-0 (on Domingo Santana in the top of the first) I just said to myself, ‘Hey, just throw a fastball down the middle,’ and it was rocketed right at Simba (Simmons). Someone was helping.
The bottom of the first inning found Trout facing Mariners starter Mike Leake, with a runner on base.
Ausmus: He doesn’t swing at a lot of first pitches.
Trout: Like I said, (Skaggs) is watching over everybody.
Trout crushed the first pitch 454 feet over the left-centerfield wall for his 29th home run of the season, putting the Angels ahead, 2-0. The team scored five more times in the first frame to go up 7-0.
Gubicza: From the time when (Skaggs's mother) Debbie threw the first pitch, it felt like this was a movie. The (45-second) moment of silence, everyone wearing the jerseys, Trout hits the two-run homer then looks up here at the box where all the wives are at, including Carli Skaggs, you think, 'Man this is incredible.'
Heaney: Scoring those runs early allowed everyone to relax and focus. As a pitcher, you get seven runs in the first, there’s no added pressure.
Peña: When I came in, the plan was for me to focus on each inning, one at a time … I try to go as far as I can go, but my expectations are always seven innings.
Peña needed only 20 pitches to cruise through the third and fourth innings. Four of them were balls.
Peña: I didn’t realize that. I just knew I was going through the lineup really quick.
Heaney: When Peña walked (Omar) Narvaez in the fifth, I thought, 'Welp there goes the perfect game.' Just joking around.
Then an unlikely hero emerged.
Thaiss: It was my fourth game in the big leagues. It was special just to be in the lineup in that atmosphere.
Ausmus: Matty (Thaiss) has not played a ton of third base. He was a catcher who was moved to first. Now he’s playing third.
Peña: The play that Matt Thaiss made, that set the tone for the no-no. To me, that was the most important play of the game.
It was a well-struck ground ball off the bat of Mac Williamson. Thaiss dove to his left, fully extended, mashing his face into the dirt as he gloved it. He popped up and fired to first, robbing Seattle of their greatest chance at a hit.
Thaiss: It was just pure reaction. I didn’t know if I had it as I was lying on the ground. Had to look in my glove to see if the white thing was in there.
Dustin Garneau, Angels catcher: We didn’t realize how big that play was until later. Man, that play was huge. For a rookie, trying to get to the big leagues for so many years, it was so awesome for him.
Peña: It went through my mind: something special might happen today.
Heaney: There were some balls hit right on the nose that went right at people.
Gubicza: All night they were right there where they were supposed to be, like someone had placed them there.
Simmons: We couldn’t have positioned ourselves better. It was perfect. I think Vogel (Seattle first baseman Daniel Vogelbach) pulled a ball to Fletch (David Fletcher)–right at him. ... It felt like a guidance.
Heaney: (Mariners third baseman) Kyle Seager hit one up the middle where we were shifted perfectly.
Gubicza: After like the fifth or sixth inning, I told our producer, ‘There’s something crazy going on here. If this happens, I couldn’t imagine it ever happening again.’
Peña: Like I said, he was pitching with me. (Skaggs) was with me. I had command, I was throwing all my pitches in the right spots.
White: All three pitches were working. Peña’s change-up, when it isn’t working early he usually doesn’t find it. But he made the in-game adjustment and then it started working and then he started throwing it to righties. With quality. I thought, 'Wow, he’s on it.'
Gubicza: I’ve never seen Peña throw like that. (He and Cole) were both calm. They didn’t overthrow one pitch. Taylor Cole has had an issue with overthrowing a little bit. Peña has overthrown some pitches. But they were under control with every pitch they threw. It was kinda shocking. Every pitch they threw was exactly where they wanted to throw it.
Garneau: I just wanted to keep (Peña’s) foot on the pedal. Don’t back off. Whether it was a no-hitter or not I wanted him to stay out there and get as many outs as he possibly could.
Peña: None of my teammates talked to me during the game because I was concentrating. They knew what was happening.
Heaney: In the seventh, someone (Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford) flew out to J-Up (Angels outfielder Justin Upton) in left. And for some reason, I thought, 'Oh s--- we’re gonna throw a no-hitter.' There was no reason ... I just had that feeling. You could see every time when Peña was coming into the dugout. Same routine, same look in his eye, like, extremely focused, I was like, 'Man, this dude’s locked in right now.' It’s one of those things you can’t really explain, you have to feel it.
Peña struck out Domingo Santana and Daniel Vogelbach, on eight combined pitches, to end the top of the seventh. Upton homered in the bottom half to put the Angels ahead 13-0.
White: When we hit in the seventh, I watched from the tunnel. That went well, so I did the same thing in the eighth.
The score held at 13-0 when the ninth inning began.
Garneau: That’s about as nervous as you can get being that far ahead of a team. (laughs)
Ausmus: We’re three outs away, there are a bunch of fans who want to see this happen, there are a bunch of players who want to see this happen. I wanted to try and remove as much chance as possible. So I talked to Thaiss in the dugout.
Thaiss: He said, ‘You’re gonna hit then we’re gonna put (surehanded infielder Luis) Rengifo out there.’ I had four games at third base in the big leagues. I’ve played 30 games in my life at third base, so I expected that. (laughs)
Luis Rengifo, Angels infielder: I waited for eight innings in the dugout. The manager told me, you go out to second base for the last inning. I’m ready for anything. (Starting second baseman David Fletcher was moved to third.)
Mariners leftfielder Mac Williamson rocketed Peña’s first pitch of the ninth into deep right-center. The crack of the bat was ominous.
Peña: I’m not gonna lie, I thought, 'This can’t be happening!' Then I saw Garneau going, 'No, no, we’re good, we’re good.'
Ausmus: I’ve learned to just watch the outfielder. I immediately looked at Trout …
Cole: Felix’s reaction was like, C’mon really? But the ball just stopped. Just died.
Garneau: I knew he barreled it, but because of how it came off his bat and kinda went in the air, I knew we were OK. Peña looked at me like, ‘Oh boy, I gave it up,’ but I go, ‘No no no no, we’re good.’
Gubicza: With Trout, knowing him, he’d probably climb up on top of the scoreboard and make the play. There was no way that ball was getting out of here on Trout’s watch.
Two outs away. Speedy Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon hit a dribbler to Peña, who fired a strike to first base in time. One out away now, and centerfielder Mallex Smith, another speedster, stepped into the box.
Peña: Being honest–I felt nervous before the last batter. I could feel what was coming. But it was a good emotion.
Rengifo: I saw the ball was hit hard and I was like (eyes widening), 'Great! I just came in the game! I’m cold!' (laughs)
Heaney: When it was first hit I was like 'Pleeeease be right at him.' If it goes five feet either way it’s a hit.
Peña: I got anxious because he made good contact. ‘Ugghhh this might be the end.’ I turned a little bit and I saw Rengifo bobble the ball, and I thought, ‘(Smith) is fast, we might not get the no-no!’
Gubicza: That was the only time, outside of (Pujols’) 600th home run, where I openly acted like a fan. I jumped up and my thumb got caught in my headset and it was all crooked on my face. I saw it hit Rengifo in the chest, then hit the ground and – (jaw drops open)
Rengifo: Before the game, I thought about–do you remember Skaggy’s last game? I played second base, I make the error, he tell me, like, ‘I got you. You can do it next time.’ He throw a breaking ball and the guy hit a ground ball to shortstop, and Simmons and me make a double play. I’ll never forget that. (pause) I’m crying. It’s–it’s hard.
Ausmus: The guy who hit it can fly down the line, so in my mind I was just saying, 'Get the ball, get the ball, get the ball.'
Rengifo pounced on it and whipped it to first baseman Justin Bour, on target. When it smacked into Bour’s glove...
Rengifo: I blow my mind, like (does mind-blown hand gestures). We got it! We got it!
Heaney: I was just happy as hell. Screamed. Jumped up over the rail and ran out there, wanted to give Peña a hug … It’s not even a matter of ‘I’ll never forget it,’ it’s like: That’s something that will never happen again. You’ll never be involved in something like that again.
Justin Upton, Angels outfielder: We were all celebrating, and in the middle of our celebration, Jeremy Reed, our hitting coach, was like, I think we should leave the 45 jerseys on the mound. I went to Trout and said, 'Let’s go take our jerseys to the mound.'
Trout: It was a great idea, to honor him one last time. It was a special moment for all of us as a team.
Ohtani: It was a wonderful moment. One of the best things I’ve ever experienced.
Heaney: He’s immortalized. Having a guy wear your jersey as the guy throws a no hitter–I just think that’s so cool.
Gubicza: Trout’s homer–he’s got his Tyler Skaggs jersey on so from now on when people see it it’s gonna be Skaggs hitting that home run. And it will be Tyler Skaggs finishing off a no-hitter.
Thaiss: It was more disbelief than anything. That all those events lined up on that day. We went back and sat in the clubhouse after, and (outfielder) Kole (Calhoun) and Trouty were rattling off the numbers. Trout’s homer went 454 feet. We scored seven runs in the first, thirteen total. July 13 is (Skaggs’) birthday, which was just a couple hours after the game. So many things, I just sat back in my chair at my locker and–wow. It gives you chills.
Ausmus: The last combined no-hitter in California was on the day he was born (July 13, 1991, when the Orioles no-hit the A’s). I don’t know if you could even script it. You’d have to have a wild imagination to script that.
Ausmus: There have been a lot of questions these past couple weeks and we kinda have to find a way to keep going with our lives. But every once in a while something hits you, and you wonder about what happens after (we die) ... (Friday) was a very nice warm feeling that there’s something else after this. And we know now, for sure, that he’s here with us.
Cole: Who would have ever thought in their wildest dreams that something like that would happen?
Dee Gordon, Mariners second baseman: I got one thing to say and I said it three years ago and I’m going be done with it: If you don’t believe in God, you might want to start. I said it three years ago when I hit the homer for Jose (Fernandez, the Marlins pitcher who had just died in a boating accident). They had a no-hitter today. Y’all better start. That’s all I got.
Upton: I was driving to the ballpark on my way to the yard, the day after it happened, and the way I thought about it was: 'That was the positive memory we needed, as a team, as an organization, as a fanbase, that when we look back on this year, and losing Tyler, we’re always gonna have this to think of.' We can say, 'You know what, we lost a good friend but the memory we’ll all remember is us all wearing 45, the no-hitter, the win on the night that we paid our respects.'
Trout: I’m speechless. This was the best way possible to honor him.
After the final out, Skaggs’s teammates stood around the mound, looking down at the jerseys they had laid there, then slowly they broke away in pairs and threesomes and disappeared into their dugout. Peña lingered at the edge of the hill.
Peña: I was thinking of him. I was thinking if he were here and celebrating with us, he would be dancing like he always does. Playing his music. I was talking to him ... I’m not gonna lie, he pitched for me. That’s the way it felt.