The number 45
I cannot stop watching this. I have probably watched it 50 times already, and I will no doubt watch it at least 50 more. This is Tyler Skaggs mother, Debbie, throwing the first pitch before the Angels-Mariners game on Friday. Everything about this pitch is perfect … not just perfect form and perfect location, but PERFECT, like the opening to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” or the first paragraph of “Catcher in the Rye,” or Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” in The Wizard of Oz.
She raised him as a ballplayer. You might know that from the stories since Tyler’s death less than two weeks ago or you might not know it, but all you have to do is see that pitch and you can FEEL it. Debbie Skaggs was a physical education teacher and softball coach at Santa Monica High School for two decades. She was the Los Angeles Times coach of the year in 1995. Her twin sister Donna was also a successful high school softball coach. This game gushes inside her.
She saw what Tyler could become more clearly than anyone.
'“She’s really hard on me,” Tyler told The Los Angeles Times when he was a high school junior back in 2008. “Even now, she says I should get straight A’s. She makes me do my curveball drill. She says, ‘Go run around the block until you get tired.’”
Debbie Skaggs wore No. 45, her son’s number, when she made her pitch. Then, everyone on the Angels wore No. 45 on this night for Tyler. This was their first home game since he died.
Taylor Cole opened for the Angels. That’s still a new verb in baseball, to say a pitcher “opened,” rather than to say “started.” This was the fourth time that Taylor Cole opened a baseball game in the big leagues. He endured plenty to get here. He was drafted three times by three different teams — in the 26th, 31st and 29th rounds — and for seven seasons he kicked around in Toronto’s minor leagues. The Blue Jays released him at some point, then brought him back, then let him go again.
The Angels picked Cole up for some relief duty and then gave him a shot as an opener. It didn’t seem like it would stick. He made his first opener last August, lasted 1 1/3 innings and gave up three runs. His second opener was even worse, he made it just one inning and gave up two homers. This year, he limped through an opener in May, giving up two hits but keeping Minnesota off the board for an inning.
Friday’s opener was his first in about two months.
This time, Taylor Cole wore No. 45 — he had been wearing the thoroughly uninspiring 67 — and he struck out Seattle’s Mallex Smith to start the game. It was a nice start. He was brought back for the second inning, and he looked even more confident, and had another 1-2-3 inning.
Between Cole’s perfect innings, the Angels scored seven runs. David Fletcher (wearing No. 45) led off with a double to right field. And that brought up Mike Trout. It can be frustrating to write about Mike Trout because — what words are left for this guy? You realize that he has led the league in something important every single year of his career.
2012: Led league in runs, stolen bases and OPS+.
2013: Led league in runs and walks.
2014: Led league in runs, RBIs and total bases.
2015: Led league in slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+
2016: Led league in runs, walks, on-base percentage and OPS+
2017: Led league in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and OPS+
2018: Led league in walks, on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+
This year he leads the league in homers, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and total bases.
Trout stepped up to the plate, wearing No. 45, and he blasted a 454-foot homer.
Later in the inning, Trout came up again and smashed a two-run double.
Felix Peña came into the game for the Angels. Peña, like Taylor Cole, is 29 years old and, like Cole, he is a new-kind of pitcher, a kind that could not have existed even five years ago. He’s the guy who comes in after the opener. What should we call these pitchers? Second acts? Don’t they call the second comedian on the bill the “featured act?” Should these second pitcher be the featured pitcher? Twelve times this year, Peña has come into games in the second inning. This is what he does.
Peña came into the third inning this time because Cole had been so good. The Angels got Peña in a trade from the Cubs in 2017; what makes that trade interesting was that he was traded for:
— A player to be named later
— Cash considerations
Yes, either/or. Nobody knew for sure. And here we are, two years later, and we’re still not sure. On his Baseball Reference page, it shows Peña being traded for “player to be named,” but no player is actually listed. Is the trade still going on? Are the Cubs still scouring the Angels minor league system? Was money exchanged but nobody made a big deal about it? Who knows?
Felix Peña, wearing No. 45, pitched the game of his life. He walked Omar Narvaez on four pitches in the fifth. And that was all he gave up — seven innings, zero hits, six strikeouts. He got 15 swing and misses, 10 of them on his two-seam fastball which was darting all over the place. He pitched as if inspired.
Matt Thaiss played third base for the Angels. Theiss is learning how to play third base this year … he had been a catcher and designated hitter in college, he was drafted as a first baseman, he was one of those young hitters with so much talent that the Angels figured, “We’ll find a position for him later.” This spring, in Salt Lake City, they tried him at third. He sort of held his own. Sort of.
Friday, Thaiss — wearing No. 45 — was in the field in the sixth inning when Mac Williamson hit a ground ball into the hole between short and third. Thaiss took three hard steps to his left, dived, smothered the ball, jumped to his feet and threw out Williamson by a step. It was the defensive play of the game. It was every bit as unlikely as anything else that happened.
In the end, the game had all sorts of Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy coincidences. The Angels threw a combined no-hitter. The last combined no-hitter in California was thrown by four Baltimore pitchers on July 13, 1991 — the day that Tyler Skaggs was born.
The Angels won 13-0 and had 13 hits. Skaggs was born on the 13th of this month.
Tyler Skaggs won 28 big league games, which is the number of Mariners who came to the plate.
And so on. You know, there are nine innings in baseball game, and if you add up those numbers, 1 through 9, you end up with that number, Tyler’s number, the number 45.
It’s silly, sure, but baseball fans, the more romantic among us, we find comfort in the numbers, comfort in the idea that, in the end, things add up. We can’t really help ourselves. When this game ended, this impossible little game where a grieving mother threw a perfect strike, and the best player in the game hit a long home run, and two workaday pitchers threw a no-hitter, you heard people insist that it is proof that God exists. I’m not sure about the theology, but it is something that the team playing was the Angels. And there is crying in baseball.