ST. PETERSBURG -- Early in the season, when Matt Duffy was struggling, he approached Bruce Bochy and told him he understood if the manager wanted to bench him. He was hitting .170 through 14 games, and had just one home run and six RBIs, including a stretch of seven games where he was hitless in six of them.
But Bochy kept his faith in Duffy, who he solidified in the lineup, calling him "our third baseman." On Sunday in the series finale against the Rays, Duffy played his 188th consecutive game, taking over Major League Baseball's ironman title for most consecutive games played.
"If you asked me a year ago, and this is where we'd be, talking about this," Duffy said. "Yeah, I'd say I'm proud for sure. It just kind of opens your eyes."
Manny Machado previously held the honor, but his streak ended on Sunday when he began serving a four-game suspension for an altercation with Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura.
Duffy went 2-for-3 in Sunday's 5-1 victory over the Rays, though he left after the seventh inning with Achilles tenderness in his left foot. Duffy said he expects to play Monday in Pittsburgh.
For Duffy, his eyes are opened to the longevity it took guys like Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr. to not only play every day, but even just play in the Major Leagues. So while he was excited about the accomplishment, he was reserved about his place in its historical context.
He tried to calculate the exact number of years it would take to touch the record, figuring someone would need to play every day for 15 years, a feat nearly impossible in today's game.
"To be in the big leagues that long is absurd," Duffy said. "But to play every one of those days, is even more incredible. I think that's a record that will never be broken."
Bochy said that during Duffy's struggles was when everyone else needed to stand behind him and show confidence that his natural baseball talents would take over.
The guys that Bochy worries about more are the ones that get down during slumps. That's not something he ever saw in Duffy. And now, at least temporarily, he is truly an everyday player.
"He's the one guy I think can handle the load of playing every day," Bochy said. "Mentally handle the ups and downs. He has a great attitude."
Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based on St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.