A night after the Angels honored late teammate Tyler Skaggs with a combined no-hitter, starting pitcher Matt Harvey nodded to his right, where Skaggs’ locker remained in a suspended state, following a 9-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Earlier Saturday, Harvey had crouched behind the mound at Angel Stadium and pressed one of his fists to the number 45 painted in the dirt in Skaggs’ memory. Skaggs had been one of Harvey’s staunchest supporters, someone who reminded him amid his hardships in Anaheim that “you’re always the Dark Knight.”
Harvey rarely has lived up to that moniker, given to him in New York earlier this decade when he turned in Cy Young Award-worthy seasons, since signing with the Angels. He entered Saturday’s start with an atrocious 7.50 ERA.
But as he flummoxed Mariners hitters for 5-2/3 innings of one-run baseball, Harvey managed to distance himself from the issues that plagued him this season. He rode his fastball, which hovered around a pedestrian 92 mph, up in the zone for strikes. He used his breaking pitches effectively and threw a changeup to keep hitters off balance. He suppressed his perfectionist tendencies and “got after it.”
He did it while remembering Skaggs’ words to him.
“Although I’m not really throwing like the Dark Knight, like I used to, he kept telling me that,” Harvey said. “When I had some rough games and got down on myself, he was always there to pick me up.
“I kind of felt like I let everybody down by not being able to really be what I have been in the past,” Harvey added. “I think I took that really hard, and [was] probably too hard on myself to be perfect and kind of dug myself into a hole. He was always there. He was next to me everyday. He told me ‘just remember who you always are.’”
Harvey’s first victory since May 17 marked another special moment on a weekend that began with a moving tribute to Skaggs, who would have celebrated his 28th birthday Saturday. The night before, 7/13 was etched in the Angels’ minds after they scored seven runs in the first inning, 13 overall, and no-hit the Mariners while wearing jerseys with Skaggs’ name emblazoned above his number.
Together in 45s, the Angels watched Taylor Cole pitch two perfect innings and Felix Pena follow with seven no-hit innings. They orchestrated a more memorable tribute than anyone could have imagined.
The poignance of the no-hitter, which featured other eerie numerical coincidences — such as the correlation between the Angels’ 11th no-hitter and Skaggs wearing No. 11 at Santa Monica High — lingered Saturday afternoon.
“You can’t write a script like that,” catcher Dustin Garneau said.
“It just felt like there was something special about the night,” Cole said. “Who would have ever thought in their wildest dreams something like that would happen?”
As players filtered in and out of the Angels clubhouse, some walked by Skaggs’ locker. On a high shelf, Pena had placed his game ball from the night before, above a neat row of cleats and the socks Skaggs left hanging on a hook.
Manager Brad Ausmus likened Saturday’s game to a restart, an opportunity for the Angels to regain some semblance of normalcy in their routine.
“Yesterday everyone was slapped in the face with the tragedy all over again,” Ausmus said. “I do think that’ll happen again. I think today will probably be step 2.1, so to speak.”
It was perhaps even more so for the embattled Harvey. The onetime Mets ace began to correct course Saturday night. In his first major league start since Minnesota throttled him for eight runs May 23, Harvey navigated Seattle’s lineup without much drama.
He needed 57 pitches to get through three scoreless innings. After Mike Trout hit his eighth homer in seven games for a 5-0 lead in the third, Harvey locked in and threw 13 pitches in the fourth inning. An 11-pitch fifth helped him get through the Mariners’ order twice on 81 pitches, a welcome milestone for the pitcher who spent nearly two months on the injured list nursing an upper-back strain.
Harvey, who was assigned a locker beside Skaggs’ at the start of the season, allowed only one run.
“There’s obviously still work to be done,” said Harvey, who issued three walks and battled to stay ahead in counts early in the game, “but to be able to go out and execute pitches and throw everything and just get back with these guys is what’s most important.”
As the Angels tried to shake the emotional hangover, they assembled a more modest onslaught than Friday’s 13-0 rout. Albert Pujols singled home Andrelton Simmons for the first run in the second inning. Kole Calhoun, the only Angel in the starting lineup not to reach base Friday, deposited his 20th home run over the center-field fence that bears an image of Skaggs preparing to throw a pitch.
David Fletcher, who finished with two hits and two RBIs, drove a ball to the opposite field that nearly cleared the fence in right. He settled for a run-scoring triple and a 3-0 advantage.
Pujols applied the final blow, a three-run homer in the seventh that put the game out of reach.
The tragic loss of Skaggs will hang over the Angels the rest of the season. It might even color the rest of some careers, Trout said, referring to himself Friday night.
But for a second night in a row, the Angels set aside grief to emerge victorious.