We don’t know whether CC Sabathia will be a Hall of Famer. That’s a decision which will begin to be made five years from now by a voting body of Major League Baseball writers with conflicting opinions about what it takes to get on a wall in Cooperstown, N.Y.
However, when they look at Sabathia’s credentials they will see a line item sufficient to open the Hall door for just about everyone else who has done it. Sabathia now has 3,002 strikeouts.
He became the 17th player in MLB history to reach 3,000 on Tuesday at Chase Field in Phoenix during the New York Yankees’ 3-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is only the third lefthander joining Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.
Among the first 16 pitchers to whiff 3,000, only Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling are not enshrined. You know why Clemens may never get it. Schilling may finally do it on the 2020 ballot that will be topped by Derek Jeter.
So far during his 19-year career, Sabathia has pitched for the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers and Yankees. He’s won a Cy Young Award and been named to six All-Star teams. He has a World Series ring, has thrown 3,490 innings and 54,967 pitches.
The momentous strikeout came in the bottom of the second inning against Arizona catcher John Ryan Murphy, who caught Sabathia 15 times in The Bronx from 2013-15. Needing three strikeouts to reach his goal, he first fanned David Peralta and Christian Walker. Then Murphy swung and missed at a change up.
“When I actually got that last strike, I didn’t want it to be Murph,” Sabathia said of the former second-round Yankees draft pick. “Me and him are really close, I’ve been knowing him his whole career.”
“I asked him if he wanted me to sign the baseball for him,” Murphy told the New York Times.
Sabathia came into the season needing 16 strikeouts to reach the milestone. And when he got to the dugout after the inning, his teammates erupted with handshakes and back slaps. It’s what Yankees manager Aaron Boone knew was appropriate.
“I just said, ‘We’re going to react. We’re going to let the moment tell us what to do,'” Boone said. “We’re not going to take a cue from anyone. We’re just going to respond to the moment in celebration of our guy.”
It will not matter that Sabathia ended up losing the game after giving up two earned runs, five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He got the milestone ball from teammate Gary Sanchez. There’s no record if anyone gave him the ball after he struck out Mike Kinkade of the Baltimore Orioles for No. 1 on April 8, 2001.
“The experience to catch his 3,000th strikeout is something that I’ll never forget,” Sanchez.
Like they always do, the Yankees made arrangements for his family to be present. He wife, Amber, his mother and his four children were in stands to share in the celebration.
“It’s one of those awesome numbers: 3,000 hits, 500 homers, 3,000 strikeouts,” Boone said before the game. “That’s what I grew up with in my mind, and I think I got to see Rod Carew hit 3,000, Reggie [Jackson] 500 [homers], Don Sutton 3,000 [strikeouts], 300 wins.
“Those are magical numbers in our sport, and people should take notice when people come up upon them. In a game that dates back to the 1800s, to be only the 17th guy to get to 3,000 is amazing. But it means a lot to the guys in that room, because they know who he is.”
Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Jones, who has more at-bats (105) against Sabathia than any other pitcher in his career, also understands the significance of the accomplishment,
“He’s one of the biggest names in the game for the last two decades, and he’s the [third] African American pitcher with at least that many strikeouts,” Jones told ESPN.
Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins are the only other black pitchers with at least 3,000 strikeouts in their careers. Sabathia, Gibson and Jenkins are part of the 15-man group of black pitchers to have won 20 or more games in a season.
“Being a ‘Black Ace’ is something that I take very seriously,” Sabathia said. “So to be on that list as one of three guys with 3,000 strikeouts, it’s hard to grasp, it’s hard to think about it. But it’s cool to be on that list.”
Sabathia began the season on the injured list with knee soreness. That followed offseason angioplasty. He has already said this will be his 19th and final season.
And the answer to the trivia question: Who did Sabathia strikeout the most during his career? Chris Davis and Carlos Pena both whiffed 26 times.