ATLANTA --- John Smoltz remembers the first K.
Darryl Strawberry, whiffing on a high fastball.
"Like it was yesterday," Smoltz said. "I got him to swing through it. I only had two that day. I struck him out and the next guy. I went back-to-back, and that was the only ones I had all day."
He's had plenty of strikeouts since that day in 1988. Smoltz is just four from becoming the 16th pitcher in major league history to reach 3,000, a milestone that looks well within reach for the Atlanta Braves right-hander when he goes to the mound against Washington tonight.
In his last start, Smoltz fanned 10 in five innings at Florida, the 44th time he's had double-figure Ks. Now, he's on the verge of needing fewer innings than all but five pitchers -- Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens -- to join the 3,000 club.
"That's a pretty elite group," Smoltz said before Monday's game against the Nationals. "The thing that means the most to me is it would be here in Atlanta. Nobody else would get to enjoy it as much as the Atlanta fans."
Smoltz already is the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves and has more postseason wins (15) than anyone else. Three thousands strikeouts would further bolster the 40-year-old's Hall of Fame prospects.
"I never tried to be a strikeout pitcher," he said. "It just happened to be that when I needed strikeouts the most, I was able to get them."
Smoltz makes it sound much easier than it is -- especially in light of myriad health problems and spending three full seasons as a closer, rarely working more than one inning at a time.
"He just does the best he can with it," manager Bobby Cox said. "I know I couldn't pitch with the way my neck is. He's a lot tougher than I am."
A look at baseball's all-time strikeout leaders:
1. Nolan Ryan........5,714
2. Roger Clemens........4,672
3. Randy Johnson*........4,629
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........3,509
10. Phil Niekro........3,342
11. Greg Maddux*........3,287
12. Fergie Jenkins........3,192
13. Bob Gibson........3,117
14. Curt Schilling*........3,116
15. Pedro Martinez*........3,031
16. John Smoltz*........2,996
* active player