David Phillips: Perhaps divine intervention fueled Angels’ miraculous baseball tribute

David Phillips
Reflections from my Notebook

If modern fans needed proof that baseball is a spiritual game, the appropriately named Angels of Los Angeles did their best to give it to them Friday, July 12, in their first home game since the death of 27-year-old pitcher Tyler Skaggs on July 1. Angels pitchers threw a combined no-hitter in a 13-0 win over the Seattle Mariners during a night dedicated to the player’s memory.

Right from the first pitch, it was apparent the night was going to be special. With the crowd on its feet and every Angels player wearing Skaggs’ name and No. 45 on the back of their jerseys in honor of their teammate, Skaggs’ mother, Debbie, who had the honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch, delivered a perfect strike.

Two Los Angeles Angels pitchers followed her lead behind some timely defense to throw the no-hitter, the 11th in team history. Coincidentally, Skaggs wore No. 11 as a pitcher on his high school baseball team. It was also the first combined no-hitter in California since the Baltimore Orioles did it on the road against the Oakland Athletics on July 13, 1991, the day California native Skaggs was born.

There are more coincidences, or maybe not. Baseball is a numbers game and this game’s particular numbers raise some interesting correlations that, perhaps, give more meaning to the game than appears on the surface.

In the first inning Mike Trout hit a home run that measured 454 feet. Taking the numbers of that distance, Skaggs’ uniform number of 45 could read from left to right or right to left.

The Angels scored seven runs in that first inning and 13 in the game. Skaggs was born on July 13 (7-13).

The game ended with the Angels pitchers facing 28 batters less than two hours before what would have been Skaggs’ 28th birthday.

This special game just adds to the allure of the national pastime that seems to have a timeless, mythical side behind the balls and strikes that add up each night.

Many people today consider baseball boring or mundane, but so is much of life until the divine unfolds in the least expected circumstances. With no clocks or restrictions set by timekeepers, baseball has that timeless feel, a sense of infinity.

While many sports have an objective to penetrate the other team’s defense as if in battle, the object in baseball is to round the bases and return safely home, with the runner transformed on the journey, ultimately collecting a reward, which in baseball’s case is a run, akin to the cycle of life.

It is the only sport that is predicated on expecting and managing failure. A successful batter is one who hits over .300, meaning he makes an out more than two out of every three times he steps up to bat. The sport embraces human limitation and has compassion for failure.

The sport requires sacrifice to advance the goal of the team. Players will intentionally make an out by a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner on base or a sacrifice fly to score a runner on third base.

Baseball has had its share of miraculous occurrences when, for instance, teams come from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. One famous moment was when a home run by Bobby Thompson, the “shot heard round the world,” won the 1951 World Series for the New York Giants.

Although that happened at the end of a much-watched World Series, baseball fans know miracles can happen at any time, even in the middle of a middling season by the Los Angeles Angels. The night to honor Skaggs was special in itself, but no one realized how the Angels would make it so much more special.

Fans still don’t know what caused the death of Skaggs, a healthy newlywed baseball player, but medical science will likely reveal an earthly cause when the autopsy results are revealed in October.

Fans will never know if the miraculous storyline of the game to honor Skaggs was an unusual convergence of coincidences or divine intervention. When interviewed after the game, most of the players chose the latter.

Trout, the star of the Angels and considered the best in all of Major League Baseball who was drafted alongside Skaggs in 2009, sums it up best in a post-game interview with national media:

“It’s just stuff you can’t make up,” said Trout, who has reached base exactly 45 percent of the time over his last 45 games. “Tonight was in honor of him, and he was definitely looking over us tonight.”