ANAHEIM – As CC Sabathia sits upon the precipice of becoming the 17th man to join the 3,000 strikeouts club, the veteran Yankees hurler was asked to reflect upon the first whiff that he recorded in a Major League uniform.
That transpired in Sabathia's big league debut on April 8, 2001, facing the Orioles for the Indians at what was then called Jacobs Field. Jeff Conine took Sabathia deep for a first-inning, three-run homer, and Sabathia responded by striking out Mike Kinkade looking in a five-pitch at-bat.
"I remember thinking it was kind of wack because I faced Mike Kinkade a bunch in the Minor Leagues," Sabathia said. "I was wishing it was Cal Ripken. I remember facing Mike a lot coming up in the Minor Leagues and him being the first strikeout was kind of, 'Eh.'"
Sabathia has more than made up for that in the 19 seasons that have followed, with his 2,994 strikeouts entering Wednesday's start ranking third among all left-handers, behind Randy Johnson (4,875) and Steve Carlton (4,136). Sabathia won't catch those legends before he retires at season's end, but John Smoltz (16th place all-time) is within reach at 3,084.
"It's cool, especially that short list of lefties," Sabathia said. "To join that list would be cool, but it’s something that I can’t really think about now. I’m focusing on making sure that I stay healthy enough to help the team win. I’m glad that I’ll be able to get this out of the way kind of early."
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that he will be "pumped" to witness Sabathia make history, especially if it happens in Anaheim. Boone was a regular presence at the Big A, where his father, Bob, caught for the Angels from 1982-88.
"I grew up in this game loving all that stuff," Boone said. "I was here when Rod Carew got 3,000 hits, when Reggie (Jackson) hit 500 (homers), when Don Sutton got 3,000 strikeouts. Those numbers, I'm nostalgic. I love the history of the game. Now with CC being somebody I got to play against, got to be a teammate with and now get to be his manager, he's somebody I have a ton of respect for."
Sabathia – who logged his 247th career victory in his last start – will have a considerable cheering section on hand as he chases the milestone. He said that his family will be flying cross-country from New Jersey for Wednesday's game, and he also will have family members traveling to Anaheim from his hometown of Vallejo, Calif.
“I don’t think you block it out of your mind," Sabathia said. "It is what it is. It’s right there, so I’ll just try to make pitches and I won’t think about it until I get to two strikes and make pitches.”
Ready and waiting
Clint Frazier was not in the Yankees' lineup on Tuesday, one day after he sprained his left ankle in the 12th inning of New York's 4-3, 14-inning victory over the Angels. Aaron Boone said that Frazier insisted that he could play, but the manager thought it wise to offer a day off. Boone added that Frazier is available off the bench.
"I can obviously still feel some pain and soreness, but the way I was able to play the game last night was obviously a positive," Frazier said. "Today I woke up feeling better than I did last night, so that’s another positive."
Though head athletic trainer Steve Donohue taped Frazier's ankle after he scored on Gio Urshela's 12th-inning sacrifice fly, Frazier said that he felt some ankle discomfort during his next at-bat, a 14th-inning strikeout.
"We evaluated him and it didn't seem too bad," Boone said. "He got wrapped up here when he came in after he scored; got some treatment after the game. The swelling was pretty minor. I think the biggest test was going to be how he woke up and how he was feeling as he did some moving around."
Gary Sanchez was cleared to return after playing in a Minor League rehab game on Monday for Class A Charleston, reporting no issues with his left calf strain. Boone said that Sanchez will be activated from the injured list on Wednesday.
With Sanchez's return imminent, the Yankees hope to get some of their other stars back in the near future. General manager Brian Cashman has said that Giancarlo Stanton (left biceps strain) or Troy Tulowitzki (left calf strain) could be the next players to return from the injured list.
This date in Yankees history
April 23, 2000: Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams become the first pair of teammates in Major League history to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game. The Yankees defeat the Blue Jays, 10-7, in Toronto.