PHOENIX – CC Sabathia strutted off the Chase Field mound at the end of the second inning, Yankees cap slightly tilted to one side and his trademark baggy jersey swaying in the wind. His head held high, he struck the look of a player who knew he was going to
PHOENIX – CC Sabathia strutted off the Chase Field mound at the end of the second inning, Yankees cap slightly tilted to one side and his trademark baggy jersey swaying in the wind. His head held high, he struck the look of a player who knew he was going to make history on Tuesday night.
It was his destiny. There was never any doubt this was going to happen.
This is 3,000 strikeouts. Welcome to the club, CC.
• Complete guide to CC's 3,000 K's
It took five pitches to D-backs catcher and former Yankees player John Ryan Murphy in the second inning and more than 18 seasons in the big leagues for Sabathia to join the exclusive group and etch his name among the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. The 17th member of the 3,000-strikeout fraternity, Sabathia is only the third left-handed pitcher behind Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton to accomplish the feat.
He is also the third black pitcher after Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson to record 3,000 strikeouts.
“I know both of those guys and being a Black Ace is something I take very serious, being one of the guys to win 20 games,” Sabathia said. “To be on that list of guys with 3,000 strikeouts is hard to grasp. It’s hard to think about, but it’s cool to be on that list.”
Sabathia’s first pitch to Murphy was a cutter inside that he took for a ball. He fouled off the next three pitches – all cutters – before swinging and missing at an 84 mph changeup in the strike zone for the third out of the frame, setting Yankees fans in attendance into a frenzy and propelling Sabathia’s teammates out onto the field for a spontaneous celebration.
Sabathia exhaled. Then he smiled.
“I didn’t want it to be Murph,” Sabathia said. “Me and him are really close. I’ve known him his whole career and he’s a great guy. I didn’t want it to be [D-backs starter Zack] Greinke and I didn’t want it to be Murph. I was just glad it was over with.”
Sabathia slapped hands and hugged each of his fellow Yankees outside of the dugout. His loved ones rushed down from their seats carrying blue and white oversized cutouts of the No. 3,000 to an opening in the protective netting just outside the first-base camera well.
Once Sabathia made it inside the dugout, there was a sense of relief, but also some urgency. He was leading off the next inning, so he had to grab a bat and a helmet. When he emerged from the top step, Sabathia tipped his cap to cheering fans. He hugged his kids, kissed his wife and then high-fived family members that have followed him on the road trip to history that started back on April 8, 2001, when he struck out Baltimore left fielder Mike Kinkade looking on a 2-2 pitch in Cleveland for his first career strikeout.
Now, that first strikeout was nerve-wracking, Sabathia recalled. He didn’t want to strike out his old friend Kinkade, either.
Once he stepped in the batter’s box, Sabathia struck out on four pitches, but it didn’t matter. Yankees fans and baseball historians among the 36,352 in attendance didn’t come to see Sabathia hit. He ended up striking out in both of his at-bats.
“I was trying to go deep,” Sabathia said with a smile. “Hit a homer."
Sabathia entered the game with 2,997 strikeouts and punched out Christian Walker and David Peralta in the second frame to put him on the brink of history. D-backs second baseman Wilmer Flores almost hijacked the moment with a solo home run, and shortstop Nick Ahmed followed with a single. The hits only served to add more tension to an already intense showdown with Murphy, who is no stranger to Yankees’ history. Murphy was behind the plate for Mariano Rivera’s final game. He later asked Sabathia if he wanted him to sign the ball he used to strike him out.
“The first one was pretty special. Being there for that was something I’ll always have in the memory bank,” Murphy said. “Tonight was the same, but in a little different sense. We were obviously well aware of what he was approaching before the game.”
Sabathia struck out five batters in an eventual 3-1 loss to up his total to 3,002 punchouts. He exited the game in the bottom of the sixth to a standing ovation with The Rembrandts' song, “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme song to television show “Friends” blaring in the background. The fact that the catchy TV tune was the walkup song for Flores, the next hitter, was a coincidence of little consequence.
This night belonged to Sabathia. Twenty-five family and friends posed for photos on the field after the game.
“Since the end of last year and coming up short 14 strikeouts, it’s been the only thing I have been thinking about for the last six months,” Sabathia said. “To actually have it done and now I can worry about the season. The ultimate goal is to try to win games."
Sabathia’s story is far from over. His 247 wins tie him with Bartolo Colon and Jack Quinn for 47th place on Major League Baseball’s all-time victories list and he’s three wins away from becoming only the 14th pitcher in the history of the game with at least 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone called Sabathia a Hall of Famer, a “no-brainer.”
“Maybe that’s something I’ll think about after the season, but right now, the focus is on trying to win games and trying to win this division,” Sabathia said. “Like I said earlier, it’s not up to me to say my place in history. That’s up to everybody else. I just go out and play as hard as I can and leave my numbers out there. Hopefully, one day they will be good enough to get in."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.