An occasion such as this is the type to make anyone reflect. For instance, the sight of CC Sabathia earning the 250th victory of his distinguished career conjured visions of his first win, way back on April 8, 2001.
He was an impressive flame-throwing phenom back then, firing 32 fastballs among his 33 first-inning pitches for the Indians in his major-league debut. One of them went for a three-run home run by the Orioles’ Jeff Conine, but no harm done. Sabathia, despite never having worked a game higher than Double-A ball, shut them down after that (Cal Ripken went 0-for-2) and the big guy was on his way. He went 5 2/3 innings of three-hit ball.
“I didn’t even know I won the game,” he said Wednesday afternoon, with a laugh, recalling that someone on the Indians told him about getting credit for the victory. “I was so young, I didn’t know all that.”
Now a wise and weathered 38-year-old veteran in his final season, he went a little further Wednesday afternoon, with six innings of three-hit ball in the Yankees’ 12-1 victory to resoundingly complete a three-game sweep of the second-place Rays at the Stadium. Gary Sanchez hit a three-run homer in the first and Gleyber Torres hit a grand slam in the seventh — a pair of six-run innings — for a hitting juggernaut that figures only to get stronger when Aaron Judge returns this week.
As for Sabathia (4-4 and 250-157 lifetime), he mixed his pitches more than that kid did 18 years and two-plus months ago. He relied on a cut fastball that Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera taught him. “Just thinking about the second half of my career, learning the cutter and where that’s taken me…If I hadn’t learned that pitch in 2014, I’d probably be out of the game,” he said after having become only the 14th in history to have amassed both 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
“It’s crazy. I put my name up there with guys I idolized,” he said, specifically mentioning Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins and hoping more inner-city African Americans will return to baseball.
Sanchez, the catcher, said through an interpreter, “To have the opportunity to be behind the plate for his 250th win and also his 3,000th strikeout in Arizona, it’s an honor for me to be there behind the plate and somehow be involved in his history.” He also spoke of the pitcher’s maturity, humility and openness. “Any of us can go up and ask him questions. All those things make him a great teammate.”
Sabathia on Wednesday was still just as imposing as he had been in that 2001 debut, when losing Baltimore pitcher Chuck McElroy said the youngster was so big and strong that “he should be playing tackle in the NFL.”
He has tackled the ups and downs of a long baseball career (injuries, a voluntary alcohol rehab stay). “He’s a great athlete and he can repeat his mechanics. That delivery has not only allowed him to stay healthy but it has allowed him to evolve,” said Aaron Boone, the manager who remembers facing him when Sabathia was “this overpowering young stud pitcher.”
But these Yankees aren’t about looking backward. They are looking ahead to the possibilities of adding Judge to an already stacked lineup, and to the chance for many more wins if they can get pitching as good as they got from their starters in this series sweep. They sure can hit — and wait. They chased Rays starter Blake Snell (4-6), last year's Cy Young Award winner, after only a third of an inning, in large part by taking four walks.
Now the Yankees are a season-high 3 ½ games in front in the AL East with lots to which they can look forward. Sabathia, having reached a milestone in front of his wife and children, has more ahead of him than most.
Sanchez said, “I keep saying this: To me, his career is a Hall of Fame career.”
Boone added, “I think he’s a lock. I think five years from now, they come calling.”
Breaking down CC Sabathia’s 250 wins:
With Yankees 133
With Cleveland 106
With Milwaukee 11
Home Record: 120-76
Road Record: 130-81
Wins by Month
CC Sabathia joins the 13-member club of lefthanded pitchers who have won at least 250 games:
Warren Spahn 363
Steve Carlton 329
Eddie Plank 326
Tom Glavine 305
Randy Johnson 303
Lefty Grove 300
Tommy John 288
Jim Kaat 283
Jamie Moyer 269
Eppa Rixey 266
Andy Pettitte 256
Carl Hubbell 253
CC Sabathia 250