The relentless nature and daily grind of a 162-game baseball season leave little time or space for grieving, so the Angels resumed play after Monday’s shocking death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs with a 9-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night, a 4-hour 12-minute break from the mourning process that was supposed to offer them a sliver of normalcy.
It was anything but.
Mike Trout could barely concentrate during his first at-bat at Globe Life Park because “all I was thinking about was Tyler,” the star center fielder said. “It was just a different feeling, you know, just in shock.”
As Kole Calhoun crossed the plate on his two-run homer in the eighth inning, he clapped his hands violently, pointed his index fingers to the sky, hugged Andrelton Simmons and shared an emotional embrace with Trout in the dugout.
“When I got to the plate, it just felt right to pay some respects to him,” Calhoun said of Skaggs. “We know we’ve got an Angel watching over us now.”
When closer Hansel Robles got the final out and a three-game losing streak had ended, Angels manager Brad Ausmus and the entire coaching staff lined up in front of the team’s dugout and hugged each player as they walked off the field.
“That wasn’t planned,” Ausmus said. “It just felt right.”
An eerie quiet hung over the stadium for much of Tuesday evening, players from the Rangers choosing to scrap their normal walk-up music so players and fans could hold individual moments of silence for Skaggs, the 27-year-old left-hander who was found dead in his Southlake, Texas, hotel room Monday.
Afterward, more than a dozen Angels players filed into an interview room, stood behind their manager as he addressed the media and then opened the spigot on their emotions after a devastating, gut-wrenching day and a half.
“I can’t explain it, man,” Trout said, fighting back tears. “We lost a teammate, a friend, a brother. It was tough playing out there today — it’s been a tough 24 hours — but we’re getting through it.
“Skaggsy wouldn’t want us to take another day off. The energy he brought to a clubhouse … every time you saw him, he’s just picking you up. It’s going to be tough these next couple of days, the rest of the season, the rest of our life, you know? You lose your friend. We were close, all these guys in here.”
The decision to play Tuesday night after Monday night’s game was postponed seemed natural.
“One, it was what Tyler would want,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “Also, it’s a time to allow them to get back into a routine. A lot of problems go away when the first pitch is thrown until the last pitch is thrown.”
The Southlake Police Department said “no foul play” is suspected in Skaggs’ death and that “suicide is not suspected.” An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner in Fort Worth said, but results are not expected until early October.
Players huddled in the news conference room 2 1/2 hours before first pitch Tuesday, arms draped over shoulders, hoodies covering several heads and tears filling eyes as Eppler, Ausmus, owner Arte Moreno and team president John Carpino addressed the media, flanked by two of Skaggs’ No. 45 jerseys.
“The first day back, whether it was [Tuesday or Wednesday], was going to be one of the toughest, other than [Monday],” Ausmus said. “So I think Billy hit the nail on the head in a sense that the game itself can be a refuge for the players where they can turn their minds off and focus on baseball. I don’t know that sitting in a hotel room would do them any good.”
The Angels had black No. 45 patches sewn over the hearts of their jerseys. Pitcher Andrew Heaney, who was Skaggs’ best friend on the team, and reliever Cam Bedrosian held Skaggs’ jersey during a pregame ceremony and hung it in the back of the dugout during the game.
“That was just kind of something unplanned,” Heaney said. “His jersey was hanging in his locker, and we wanted to take him out here with us one more time. He meant so much to all of us.
“He was definitely my best friend. There are probably about 100 other people out there who would say that he was their best friend too because he treated everybody like that.”
The Rangers’ grounds crew painted a red No. 45 behind the mound. The Angels decided to go with 24 players for the game, choosing not to fill Skaggs’ roster spot. A moment of silence was held before the game.
Skaggs’ wife, Carli — the couple was married in December in Malibu and had no children — and his mother, Debbie, as well several other family members were flown to Texas by Moreno and his wife, Carole, but did not attend the game.
The game was sloppy, but the Rangers seemed more distracted than the Angels, committing four errors and issuing 11 walks. Jonathan Lucroy hit a two-run single in the fifth inning and capped a four-run rally with a sacrifice fly in the sixth. Justin Upton had an RBI single and Justin Bour had a two-run single in the sixth.
Trevor Cahill (3-6) got the win in relief of starter Jose Suarez. Justin Anderson, Bedrosian and Robles each threw an inning of scoreless relief.
“It felt like there was much more urgency to win,” Ausmus said. “It’s been a rough 24 hours, and we haven’t had a lot to smile about, so a win would give us something. That’s why I went to the [relievers] I went to, even though we had a five-run lead.”
The Angels decided to leave the Southlake hotel room they stayed in Sunday night and relocate to another hotel in the Dallas-Fort Worth area Monday night. Ausmus said the team held “a couple of meetings” on Monday and Tuesday to discuss when to resume playing and to reflect on Skaggs.
“We lost a member of our family [Monday],” Eppler said. “Tyler Skaggs was a teammate, a brother, a friend, and, most important of all, he was a husband and a son. He was an exceptional young man with an entire life so full of promise yet to live. For some reason that is incomprehensible to all of us, he lives on now only in our minds and in our hearts.
“Grief is personal to all of us. It doesn’t have a timeline. It doesn’t have a road map. What is more important is we’ll all be here for each other as a team, as an organization and as a family.”
Monday’s news and Tuesday’s news conference had a familiar sting for Moreno and Carpino, who 10 years ago dealt with the shocking death of 22-year-old Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed along with two friends by a drunk driver just three days into the 2009 season.
“Man, it’s like a punch in the heart,” Moreno said. “These kids are like family, and for anyone who has children, the first thing you think is, ‘How is somebody going to respond to losing a child?’ You can’t believe it. You keep thinking someone is there, and they’re not. There’s always a hole.”