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Nightengale: Sabathia Stamps Hall of Fame Ticket With 3,000-Strikeout Milestone

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New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia, left, celebrates with first baseman Luke Voit after throwing his 3,000th career strikeout, during the second inning of the team’s baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Phoenix. Photo: AP Photo/Matt York

By Bob Nightengale |

CC Sabathia was greeted and hugged by his wife and four kids the moment he emerged outside the New York Yankees clubhouse. They walked with him to his news conference, with the kids sitting alongside him at the podium, with his wife, Amber, standing in back with the reporters.

They walked out of the news conference and were joined by about 30 more family members, friends and former teammates. They walked down the hallways, past the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse, onto the field and gathered by the third-base coaches’ box.

And took enough pictures to fill family photo albums for the next few generations.

Sabathia, who has been thinking about this moment since the end of last season, wondering what it would feel like, knowing he was on the verge of one of the greatest pitching achievements in baseball history.

And on Tuesday evening, in front of 36,352 fans at Chase Field, most rooting for the Yankees, he joined one of the most illustrious pitching fraternities in baseball.

Sabathia became the 17th pitcher in baseball history – and only the third left-hander – to strike out 3,000 batters. He joins Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson as the only lefties to strike out 3,000 batters.

“That’s a hard one to grasp,’’ Sabathia said. “There’ve been some great pitchers who played in this game, but being the third lefty is just incredible.’’

Perhaps even more significant to Sabathia is he’s one of only three African-Americans to achieve the milestone, following Bob Gibson and Ferguson Jenkins.

“Being a “Black Ace’ is something that I take very seriously,’’ said Sabathia, one of only 15 African-Americans to win 20 games. “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. But it’s cool to be on that list.’’

Now, the door to Cooperstown awaits in 2025.

“A Hall of Famer,’’ Yankee manager Aaron Boone flatly said. “He’s a Hall of Famer. This is one of those big numbers. There’s a handful of numbers, 500 homers, 3,000 hits, 300 wins, those are the numbers since the 1800s that I think instantly quality you from a longevity standpoint.

“And when you follow it up on how good of a pitcher he’s been, how dominant he’s been at times in his career, how he’s been able to evolve into the kind of pitcher he is now, to me, it’s a no-brainer.’’

Sabathia is not necessarily a shoo-in to be elected on the first ballot, but sitting with 247 victories, one Cy Young award, five top-five finishes, a World Series championship, six All-Star appearances and 3,490 innings pitched, he should be a member of the 2026 Hall of Fame induction class.

“That’s something I’ll probably think about after the season,’’ said Sabathia, 38, who will retire after this season, after battling knee surgeries and heart issues that required a stent in the offseason. “It’s really not up to me to determine my place in history. That’s for everybody else. I just go out and play as hard as I can and leave my numbers out there.

“Hopefully, one day, they’ll be good enough to get in.’’

The numbers were good enough long before this season, but 3,000 strikeouts cement Sabathia’s legacy.

Perhaps the biggest blemish on Sabathia’s resume is his career 3.69 ERA, which would be the third worst of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Still, it shouldn’t matter when the Baseball Writers Association of America fill out their ballots.

We’re talking about one of the most beloved and respected players in the game by not only his peers, but also the writers. He’s considered one of the game’s greatest clubhouse leaders, with perhaps no pitcher commanding more respect. He’s also the ultimate warrior, once pitching three consecutive times on short rest in the 2008 pennant stretch with the Milwaukee Brewers, despite being a free agent two months later.

“I feel like he should be a slam dunk Hall of Famer,” said Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who was managing at Class AAA in the Cleveland Indians organization when Sabathia broke into the big leagues. He resurrected that Cleveland organization and carried it on his back for many years. He was traded to Milwaukee and drove them into the playoffs. He came over the New York and won a World Series. He’s built up some very impressive stats.’’

Go ahead, ask around, and you won’t find any of his peers who cast a shadow of a doubt that he’s a Hall of Famer. Why, even the Hall of Fame hitters talk about his dominance, striking out 53 times and batting .159 off him in 220 plate appearances, according to researcher Ryan Spaeder.

“He’s definitely a Hall of Famer in my mind,’’ says Cubs veteran starter Jon Lester, who one day could be joining him. “He’s a guy I looked up to for a long, long time, and competed against him for a long time. The respect you have for him, not only as a baseball player but a human being, is through the roof.

“Is he a Hall of Famer? 100%. You punch out 3,000 and win 250 (actually 247) as a lefty, that’s pretty impressive.’’

Says outfielder Brett Gardner, the only player who has been teammates with Sabathia during his entire Yankee career: “No doubt. The numbers he has accomplished across the game I don’t think we’re going to see very often anymore.’’

Really, what’s lost in Sabathia’s legacy is his durability. He has pitched 200 or more innings seven seasons, at least 179 innings 13 times, and has made at least 27 starts in all but one season.

“When you talk about the Hall of Fame, and accumulate all of those numbers,’’ Diamondbacks veteran catcher Alex Avila says, “some people talk about it as a negative. They say, “Well, look at all of the number of years he played.’ That doesn’t make any sense to me.

“Longevity is part of the game. If you’re able to figure out a way to last 20 years, that in itself is an incredible feat. To be consistent for that long, that in itself is Hall of Fame worthy.

“And for this guy to reinvent himself, from throwing gas and now just going out there every fifth day, and being able to find a way no matter what kind of stuff he has on that day, that’s so difficult to do.

“Really, he’s a dying breed.’’

Long gone are the days Sabathia can simply rely on his 98-mph fastball and blow heaters past everyone, but he instead relies on his finesse and savvy. It’s what you’re seeing Clayton Kershaw doing now with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Zack Greinke with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they’re still among the elite pitchers in the game.

In Sabathia’s final three strikeouts to the 3,000 milestone, he got David Peralta out on a 68-mph curveball, Christian Walker on a 90-mph cutter and Murphy out on an 84-mph changeup.

Sabathia’s teammates on the field immediately ran over to hug and congratulate him. The Yankee dugout emptied, and one by one, took turns trading hugs and handshakes. Sabathia retreated briefly to the dugout, came back to the on-deck circle, where he was leading off, and was greeted by his wife and kids standing near the camera well, with each of the kids holding up a number: 3-0-0-0.

“It was unscripted,’’ Boone said. “We were just going to let the moment tell us what to do. We’re not going to take a cue from anyone. We’re just going to respond to the moment in celebration of our guy. He’s just a special person.’’

All you need to know about Sabathia is that he here is, achieving one of the greatest accomplishments by any pitcher in history, and he actually felt guilty because it was Murphy, his friend and former teammate who caught him in 15 games, that he struck out for 3,000.

“When I actually got that last strike,’’ Sabathia said, “I didn’t want it to be Murph. Me and him are really close. I’ve been knowing him his whole career.’’

Murphy, who caught Mariano Rivera’s final game with the Yankees, offered to autograph Sabathia’s ball. Sabathia declined, but offered to sign whatever Murphy needed for a souvenir.

“Being there for that was something I’ll always have in the memory bank,” Murphy said of his game with Rivera. “Tonight was the same, but in a little different sense.’’

Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Jones, who has faced Sabathia 107 times in his career, says he’ll forever treasure the memory, one that perhaps will even eclipse his personal favorite with Sabathia in 2012 when he played for the Baltimore Orioles.

“I remember I tried to bunt off him and fouled it off,’’ Jones said. “He yelled at me and said, “Hey, don’t you ever try to bunt the ball of me again. OK? Hit the ball.’

“Well, a couple of pitches later I hit the ball right off him. He turned around and said, “You got all of this damn field, and you hit my big ass!’

“That’s CC Sabathia.’’

Yes, a Hall of Famer.

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.

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