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Column: Mike Trout takes on difficult role during devastating time for Angels

Justin Upton, Mike Trout
Angels’ Justin Upton, left, celebrates with Mike Trout, right, after Trout’s three-run home run in the third inning against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

He didn’t have to stand at the front of the packed room.

“We made it clear,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said, “that they were under no obligation to be there.”

Except that Mike Trout felt a sense of responsibility, a responsibility to his team and to Tyler Skaggs’ family.

So when Ausmus finished his postgame address with the media, Trout fielded a question about his deceased teammate and bared his soul.

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The best player in the game wept.

The scene that unfolded Tuesday night was made more extraordinary by what happened the next day at Globe Life Park: In a 6-2 victory by the Angels over the Texas Rangers, Trout hit two home runs, his 23rd and 24th.

“Obviously, a lot better today because yesterday was tough,” Trout said.

Trout pounced on a second-inning fastball by Ariel Jurado and drove it into the Rangers bullpen behind the wall in right-center field for a three-run home run that extended the Angels’ lead to 4-0.

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He homered again Jurado the sixth inning, this time driving a changeup by the left-field foul pole.

“There’s a reason he has broad shoulders,” general manager Billy Eppler told Mike DiGiovanna of The Times. “He carries a lot on them.”

Already an established superstar on the field, the once-reticent Trout has gradually become an influential voice in the clubhouse.

The prodigy is becoming the man.

The phenom is becoming a leader.

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“I think we’re seeing him embrace that role a little more,” Ausmus said. “He’s done that on occasion in front of his teammates in front of the cameras. He’s always going to be himself. He just wants to be one of the guys, but he has, at times, spoken out.”

Tuesday night was an example.

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Skaggs was discovered unresponsive in the team hotel the day before. The Angels locker room was closed to the media before and after the game.

“There was a lot of discussion about some group of players being able to address the media, not so much for the media’s sake but for Tyler Skaggs’ family’s sake,” Ausmus said.

The players selected four representatives: Trout, Andrew Heaney, Kole Calhoun and Justin Upton.

As the team’s signature player, Trout had to know he would be asked a question. And he had to know how emotional he would be.

But he had to do this.

“It’s important to all of us,” Trout said. “You saw what he meant to us.”

Mike Trout
Angels' Mike Trout (27) is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Texas Rangers in the sixth inning in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Trout and Skaggs were part of the same Angels draft class, in 2009. They were roommates in the minor leagues. Trout was married in the winter leading up to last season. Skaggs was married a year later.

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Predictably, after Ausmus’ portion of the news conference was completed, Trout was asked the first question.

Trout approached the microphone with arms folded. He pursed his lips and shook his head.

But he wasn’t alone. Heaney, Calhoun and Upton were by his side. Most of the other Angels were also there.

Before Trout started speaking, he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Upton’s.

With his eyes teary and his voice cracking, Trout went on to share how much Skaggs meant to him.

“I can’t explain, man,” Trout said. “Lost a teammate, lost a friend, a brother. … It’s going to be tough these next couple days, the rest of the season, the rest of our life, you know?”

Heaney, who was Skaggs’ closest friend on the team, also broke down when speaking. Trout wrapped his arm around Heaney and leaned his head into his shoulder.

When Upton started crying mid-thought, Trout placed a hand on his shoulder.

Trout described the game Tuesday night as “probably one of the toughest games I’ve played in a while.”

He reconsidered.

“Ever,” he said, “besides last year.”

Last year, Trout suffered another painful loss when his brother-in-law Aaron Cox died. Cox was a former pitcher in the Angels minor league system. Trout described him as one of his closest friends.

Trout was supported by his teammates then. He is being supported by them now.

But he’s also propping them up, with his bat and his voice.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez


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