WASHINGTON (AP) — Houston Astros reliever Joe Smith sports Tyler Skaggs’ No. 45 on his hat with pride and grief.
Smith was proud to call Skaggs a friend and devastated by the Angels pitcher’s death this summer at age 27 from a toxic mix of drugs and alcohol. Now in the World Series and being counted on in important situations, Smith is pitching for his late friend’s memory.
“I talk to him every day during the national anthem,” Smith said. “I love Tyler, man. I miss him. (I think about him) every day. Any time you lose a friend, man, something will pop in your head or somebody will say something and just make you think.”
Smith got the ball from Astros manager AJ Hinch right after starter Gerrit Cole left Game 5 Sunday, asked to protect a four-run lead in the eighth inning. The 35-year-old journeyman continued his strong postseason by throwing another scoreless inning and has allowed just two hits in three innings during the World Series.
“Joe, he’s out there, he’s going to compete, throw strikes,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “He knows what he needs to do to get hitters out.”
Smith has Skaggs on his mind almost four months after the 27-year-old was found dead in his hotel room. Knowing how tight Skaggs was with Nationals starter Patrick Corbin — who wore No. 45 for a game in July — Smith joked that he tells him he’d better be rooting for Houston over Washington.
Smith grew close with Skaggs during 2½ seasons together with Los Angeles and spent time after the Astros’ 7-1 victory in Game 5 talking about not just his former teammate but others baseball has lost young.
“Unbelievable human,” Smith said. “Him and his wife Carli, they’re just great people. He’s a great friend. I miss him. It’s tragic what happened. It’s sad. In this game I feel like we lose so many people like Andy Marté, Luis Valbuena, José Fernández. We’ve lost a lot of young people. It’s just sad. You can’t take anything for granted in this life. You never know when it’s going to go.”
Smith is emotional but focused in his first World Series that comes in his 13th major league season and on his seventh team. With a 1.80 ERA during the regular season and 1.23 ERA in the playoffs, he’s pitching as well as he ever has, and it comes at a perfect time.
“It’s been fun,” Smith said. “It’s tough to get here. It’s tough to get to the postseason. It’s even tougher to get to the World Series. Not everybody gets to experience it. You play the game to ultimately get here, and I’m just happy I can be a part of it.”
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