Miami Marlins

After another player’s death, Don Mattingly can’t help but think of Jose Fernandez

Angels GM Billy Eppler on the death of Tyler Skaggs

Los Angeles Angel's general manager Billy Eppler said he has struggled to put into words what Tyler Skaggs meant to his teammates.
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Los Angeles Angel's general manager Billy Eppler said he has struggled to put into words what Tyler Skaggs meant to his teammates.

Don Mattingly immediately thought back to the final days of the 2016 season when he first heard the news about Tyler Skaggs on Monday. When the Miami Marlins’ manager heard the Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher died, there was nothing else he could do but think about the morning when he heard Jose Fernandez had died in a boating accident off South Beach.

“It instantly took me right back to that day. You can’t help it,” Mattingly said. “It throws you right back to that day.”

On Monday, MLB was shaken by an in-season player death for the first time since Fernandez’s. Skaggs, a 27-year-old pitcher, was found dead in his hotel room in Southlake, Texas. The Angels and Texas Rangers postponed their game as they reeled from the stunning news.

There’s no roadmap for a team to recover from something like this.

“Obviously, shock. As soon as you see it, your heart goes out to his family and that whole Angel organization. You have a sense of what they’re going through and really you just think about their families and what they’re going through.”

Thousands of fans gathered on Sept. 28, 2016 to bid farewell to Jose Fernandez as his funeral procession stopped at Ermita de la Caridad and St. Brendan Catholic Church.

Skaggs’ memory will be felt Tuesday when the Marlins (32-50) face the Washington Nationals at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park. Patrick Corbin, a former teammate of Skaggs’, will be on the mound for Washington (42-41) and wear Skaggs’ No. 45 rather than his usual No. 46. The Nationals said they will monitor Corbin closely throughout his start as he grieves in his own way in Washington.

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For Miami in 2016, grief only had a brief reprieve in the first game after Fernandez’s death when Dee Gordon hit an emotional home run as the Marlins’ first batter of the game. Miami won the first game after the starting pitcher’s death, then had only five more before heading home for the offseason. The Angels have about half the season to contend with.

“Now’s not a time for advice honestly or how they get through it,” Mattingly said. “It’s really more about just kind of thinking about them. Your heart goes out. There’s no playbook for how do you do it, how do you go through it. You just try to get through the day.”

Even if there’s no way to properly put into words what the rest of the season will be like in Anaheim, Mattingly and the Marlins can sympathize with what Los Angeles will now try to do.

“It’s really hard. It really is. It’s really hard to get back,” Mattingly said. “It’s going to be tough for them. There’s no way to really describe it. It’s just going to be hard.”

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