Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Angels rally following death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs

I don’t write about the Angels very often. Owner Arte Moreno can call them the Los Angeles Angels if he wants to, but they play in Anaheim and — except for Mike Trout — there isn’t much to write about.

And then I watched the end of their game with the Mariners July 12. It was the first game after the All Star break. It was also the first time the team had played at home since the death of 27-year-old pitcher Tyler Skaggs July 1 in a Texas hotel room.

Professional athletes have a strong sense of invincibility. Their bodies allow them to do things normal people can’t and dying at 27 isn’t on their radar, so the death of a popular teammate can have a devastating effect on a team.

With the exception of Trout and Tommy LaStella, who were in Cleveland for two days for the All Star Game, the players had a chance to get away from the grind of the game for four days, grieve for Skaggs and get ready for the second half of the season.

No one could say for sure what the Angels were going to be like when they took the field after paying tribute to Skaggs in pre-game ceremonies. Then they took the field with everyone wearing Skaggs’ No. 45 jersey.

And then they took all their emotions out on the Mariners. When the smoke had cleared, the offense had scored 13 runs and two pitchers combined to no-hit the Mariners. A 13-0 no-hitter. Utter domination.

And then it got real. After celebrating their victory on the field the way all major league teams do after a game, instead of heading to the locker room, the players returned to the pitching mound in the middle of the field and, one-by-one, removed their jersey with Tyler Skaggs name and number on it and draped it on the pitching mound. A final tribute to their friend and teammate.

Just watching it on television was moving. I can only imagine what it was like in person.

The Angels could use the death of Skaggs as a rallying point for their season. After winning their first five games after the All Star break, they are only 3 ½  games out of the wild card race. Stranger things have happened in baseball.

Trout remains the best player in the game and the Angels have surrounded him with some hitters to ease the load he has carried for most of this decade.

Shohei Ohtani missed the first month of the season, but he’s hitting .298 with 40 runs batted in.

Kole Calhoun has bounced back from a poor 2018 season. He hit his 21st home run the other night, surpassing the 19 he hit all of last year.

And Albert Pujols is proving he still has something left at 39. He went past the 50 RBI mark this week and his experience and intelligence should help the Angels down the stretch.

The Angels were short of starting pitching before Skaggs died. They will go as far as their pitching can carry them.

That means J.C. Ramirez and Keynan Middleton need to finish their rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and regain their form. It means rookie Griffin Canning needs to continue to prove he belongs in the big leagues and Andrew Heaney, Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey need to prove that they can regain the form that made them prized players at one time.

Former Alhambra High star Noe Ramirez has provided a lift in the bullpen with a 4-1 record and an earned run average of 3.21. Hansel Robles has taken the closer’s role and doesn’t appear ready to give it up. He has 14 saves and an ERA of 2.62.

First-year manager Brad Ausmus has helped steer the Angels in the right direction after struggling in his first Major League managing job in Detroit.

There are still 66 games left to play and anything can happen. The Angels have something to play for while honoring the memory of a fallen teammate.

It could make for a great story over the rest of the season.

NO RELIEF? As the July 31 trade deadline, it’s obvious what the Dodgers need to strengthen their roster. Social media doesn’t lie.

The Dodgers need relief pitching in the worst way. The Dodgers are 3-2 in their first five games since the all-star break, eastern road games against the defending world champion Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies, but the fans are tired of seeing Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen give up runs.

Baez blew a two-run lead against the Red Sox July 14 by giving up back-to-back home runs to Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in the eighth inning. The Dodgers rallied for three runs in the 12th inning to win the game, with Joe Kelly, the early-season poster boy for no relief, earning his first save of the season. How ironic was that?

Jansen drew fire July 16. After the Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the ninth on Matt Beaty’s three-run pinch homer, Jansen gave them all back to the Phillies, who won on Bryce Harper’s two-run double.

It was Jansen’s third blown save of the season. For reference, Yankees closer Aroldis Champan has blown four. Chapman has 25 saves, Jansen has 23.

Center fielder A.J. Pollock didn’t help Jansen out much on two plays in the inning, but Pollock has hit solidly since coming off the injured list after missing almost three months of the season.

The Dodgers have another injury to worry about, with Chris Taylor breaking a bone in his wrist July 14. He played well filling in for shortstop Corey Seager was out with a hamstring injury and the Dodgers will miss his versatility, particularly if Kike Hernandez continues to hit .224.

There are relief pitchers that could improve the Dodgers. Pittsburgh Pirates closer Felipe Vasquez and the Giants Will Smith, both lefthanders, have been prominently mentioned as trade candidates and there are others out there as well.

The bullpen is the biggest weakness on the team and team president Andrew Friedman needs to solve it. The Dodgers have too many outfielders and moving a power hitter like Joc Pederson for a dependable arm could make the difference when October rolls around.