ANAHEIM, Calif. — CC Sabathia is revered in the Yankees’ clubhouse as a teammate and leader and because of an overall resumé that may one day land him in Cooperstown.
And one part of that resumé stands out to his fellow pitchers: the 3,000-strikeout plateau Sabathia was within reach of entering Wednesday night.
“It’s really hard to even comprehend it,” said J.A. Happ, who is in his 13th big-league season and has 1,379 strikeouts. “It’s a testament to him, his career. It’s not easy to stay in this game for as long as he has and to compete at the level he’s been able to. Unbelievable.”
Sabathia came into his start against the Angels six strikeouts short of 3,000. If the lefthander, 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts this season going into the game, didn’t get it Wednesday, the milestone likely will come in his next start.
“The possibility of getting that out of the way will be great,” the 38-year-old Sabathia, a California native who will have “a bunch” of family and friends in attendance, said on the eve of the start. “Especially this early in the season so I can just focus on pitching and trying to stay healthy and help the team win.”
The lefthander, in his 19th and final season, will become the 17th pitcher to get to 3,000 and just the third lefthander to reach it (Randy Johnson, with 4,875 strikeouts, and Steve Carlton, who has 4,136, are the other lefties). The last pitcher to join the club was John Smoltz, who struck out his 3,000th hitter April 22, 2008. Smoltz is one spot ahead of Sabathia on the all-time strikeouts list at 3,084.
“It’s cool, especially that short list of lefties, to join that list would be cool,” Sabathia said. “But it’s something I can’t really think about now. Focusing on making sure I can stay healthy enough to help the team win. I’m glad I’m able to get this out of the way kind of early.”
Aaron Boone, a California native who attended nearby Villa Park High School, went to plenty of Angels games as a kid, including two where significant milestones were achieved. He was hoping to see another one Wednesday night.
“I grew up in this game loving all of that stuff,” Boone said. “I was here when Rod Carew got 3,000 hits [Aug. 4, 1985], when Reggie [Jackson] hit 500 [Sept. 17, 1984]. I’m nostalgic and love the history of the game and everything. So, yeah, now with CC being somebody I got to play against, then got to be a teammates with [in Cleveland], and now get to be his manager and just somebody I have a ton of respect for, to see a guy achieve a pretty cool number, yeah, I’ll get pumped for that.”
Sabathia’s march toward 3,000 began April 8, 2001 when, as a 21-year-old with the Indians, he made his first career start against the Orioles, allowing three runs and three hits while striking out three in getting a non-decision in Cleveland’s 4-3 victory. He didn’t need to pause to think of his first strikeout victim.
“I remember thinking it’s kind of whack because I faced Mike Kinkade a bunch in the minor leagues,” Sabathia smiled. “I was wishing it was like Cal Ripken or somebody [like that]. I remember facing Mike a lot coming up in the minor leagues and him being the first guy striking out and I was kind of like, ‘eh.’”
A far different reaction will accompany No. 3,000, especially in the dugout.
“It’s a number that, in all likelihood, less people are going to get to,” Happ said. “You’ve just got to be really good for a long time to do that. And it’s harder to stay in the game for that period of time. I don’t see it getting easier for anybody to do it, I know that.”
KINGS OF ‘K’
CC Sabathia will become the 17th pitcher to reach the 3,000-strikeout milestone. Of those pitchers, only Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling are not in the Hall of Fame.
1. Nolan Ryan 5,714
2. Randy Johnson 4,875
3. Roger Clemens 4,672
4. Steve Carlton 4,136
5. Bert Blyleven 3,701
6. Tom Seaver 3,640
7. Don Sutton 3,574
8. Gaylord Perry 3,534
9. Walter Johnson 3,508
10. Greg Maddux 3,371
11. Phil Niekro 3,342
12. Ferguson Jenkins 3,192
13. Pedro Martinez 3,154
14. Bob Gibson 3,117
15. Curt Schilling 3,116
16. John Smoltz 3,084
17. CC Sabathia 2,994