Tampa Bay Rays equipment manager Chris Westmoreland walked into the visiting manager's office tucked underneath Fenway Park on Monday afternoon and handed Joe Maddon the baseball used for the final out of the Rays' 1-0 victory.
The ball and the scorecard which hung in the Rays dugout are the only mementos Maddon will keep from the victory, even though it was a momentous win – Maddon's 500th as manager of the Rays.
"It really speaks to the quality of the players and the organization is what it does whereas the first couple years spoke to the lack of quality," Maddon said. "All of a sudden it got better in Year 3, etc. I just happen to be standing in the corner of the dugout.
Before Maddon took over, the Rays had just 518 wins in the eight-year history of the franchise, and they won just 61 and 66 games in his first two years at the helm.
Then came 2008 and everything changed. Three playoff trips in four years, a trip to the World Series, two AL East pennants and a dramatic wild card berth last season. Not to mention, two AL manager of the year awards for Maddon.
"Our guys, it's just the ability, the skill level, the way this group cares, all that stuff is really increased on an annual basis. The 500 wins, I just happen to be the steward of this group, and I have reaped the benefits of their play. Better baseball players make you a lot smarter manager."
Maddon wasn't aware he was closing in on win No. 500 until Rays vice president of communications Rick Vaughn informed him at the start of this road trip. Even the players weren't aware of the milestone.
"Nice. Congratulations. That's pretty cool," winning pitcher James Shields said.
Maddon earned his first victory in this third game at the helm, a 2-0 win April 3, 2006 against the Orioles in Baltimore. His 100th win came in the middle of the 2007 season. No. 400 came Sept. 24, 2010 against the Mariners art Tropicana Field.
"Congratulations to him. That's pretty cool," Evan Longoria said. "He would say the same thing, they're all the same until you win a championship, so we're all working for the same thing. I'm definitely happy for him and proud of him, but I'm sure he'd tell you the same thing, a win is a win until we can actually put that ring on."
Longoria said he'd much rather help Maddon earn his fifth World Series victory this October.
"Exactly," Longoria said. "I want to take home a ring for him."
When asked if he might take home a few more reminders of Monday's win, Maddon said, "I'll just take the win. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I didn't even know about this stuff, and hopefully there's going to be another 500, and hopefully another 500 after that."