TORONTO - Joe Maddon gathered his team not long before the penultimate game of the season and delivered a sending-off speech that emphasized the importance of work ethic and self-discipline in preparing for 2008.
A couple of hours later, he watched the player who has spent more time on the field for the Devil Rays this season than any other flout one of his cornerstone principles, and felt he had to take action.
Maddon pulled Delmon Young from the game after the top of the sixth inning of what became a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays for failing to run hard to first base on a routine grounder to third. He didn't immediately address the issue with his 22-year-old right fielder, and he didn't get a chance after the game.
Young, who minutes earlier had said he had no idea why he was removed from the game, departed the clubhouse without talking to Maddon other than to tell the manager he was a 'no-go' for today's season finale.
Before leaving, Young noted that he's 'not the only one' on the team that doesn't run out every ball. But Maddon had taken Young to task on the issue before, and Saturday's display was enough to push him over the edge.
'I have one simple rule, and that's to run hard to first base,' said Maddon, his delivery calm but direct. 'I've had different conversations with him regarding this during the season. We just had a meeting with the players before the game, and all I want our players to do is respect. Respect the game, respect their uniform, do things right.
'I thought it was a blatant disrespect for the game, and I couldn't tolerate that, based on everything I've talked about all year and where I want us to go. It's unacceptable.'
Maddon added that he wants the organization's minor-leaguers and 'people that want to be fans of the Rays' to expect a certain level of effort.
It was a bad day all around on that front for the Rays. After Young drew his manager's ire, Maddon watched his team turn a 1-1 tie highlighted by a strong final start from Edwin Jackson into a 5-1 deficit by allowing four unearned runs in the eighth inning.
An error by Josh Wilson and a botched bunt play by Akinori Iwamura got things going, and a three-run homer by Adam Lind off Dan Wheeler sealed it. The Rays fought back to get two runs in the ninth, but Iwamura ran into the final out after singling home one of those runs. Trying to go to second on right fielder Reed Johnson's throw home, Iwamura was nabbed when Matt Stairs cut the ball off and threw to Ray Olmedo for a game-ending tag.
'We have to get beyond this,' Maddon said. 'We have done better - I've talked about that at length and I stand by that. It's just, this is the kind of game that we have to avoid on any kind of consistent basis. These are the mistakes we're trying to work through and not have pop up in critical moments.'
It certainly wasn't the ideal way to usher in the final day of the season, and Maddon benching Young likely will add a layer of tension rarely evident on an occasion that usually has the carefree feel of the last day of school.
The last-minute falling-out put a bizarre twist on the final weekend of an impressive season for Young. Maddon has openly campaigned for the player to win the Rookie of the Year award in recent weeks, and one of his oft-cited arguments is Young's durability and reliability.
Young is the only player to appear in every Rays game this season, and he was expected to become just the seventh rookie since 1961 to appear in all of his team's games. But Young vowed Saturday he wouldn't be playing in his team's 162nd game.
'I'll see you guys next year, because I'm shut down tomorrow,' he said as he headed toward the door.