OAKLAND -- A resilient A's team reached great heights, far surpassing expectations of countless passersby, but an inspiring journey that endured its fair share of tribulations and even more triumphs was slowed to a halt on Thursday night, the joy ride officially over.
Stopped by a vintage Justin Verlander, the A's were handcuffed by the Tigers righty for nine dominant frames, as a commendable effort by their very own ace, Jarrod Parker, went for naught in an eliminating 6-0 loss in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.
An emotional Parker buried his head beneath a towel during Detroit's four-run seventh inning. Yet the rookie, like his teammates, had nothing to be ashamed of, not after his gallant effort and a season that proved to be one of the best stories baseball's witnessed in years.
The A's put together a 43-43 first half, before surging to the finish line, with a 94-68 ledger in tow, not to mention an AL West division crown they stole from the Rangers on the last day of a remarkable regular season.
"We have nothing to hang our heads about," Brandon Moss said. "Do we wish we were still playing? Absolutely. But what we did throughout the course of the season, where we ended up, how everyone contributed, we have a lot to be proud of."
In recognizing this, Oakland's faithful offered a standing ovation after the last out of the night was tallied, its unwavering support of the green and gold heard through chants of "Let's Go Oakland!" extending nearly 10 minutes, as A's players tipped their caps and embraced one another in an emotional goodbye scene in front of their dugout.
Soon after, that same group navigated its way through packing boxes in an uncharacteristically quiet clubhouse, as champagne flooded the other one across the hall.
"This place, being this silent, it's something we're not accustomed to," Josh Reddick said. "Overall, it just stinks. It's hard to handle, but we had a great season and came a long way and proved a lot of people wrong."
"It's frustrating to come this far and have it end," Grant Balfour chimed in. "I just didn't picture it this way. Verlander's a great pitcher, but I honestly thought that something crazy might happen today and we'd go out there and pull it out, but it didn't work out that way so we've got to hold our heads high. We had a great year. It's just frustrating when you're that close and you feel you've got a taste of it and it's taken away from you."
A fearless Parker, making his second career postseason start in five days at just 23 years old, gave his club another 6 1/3 innings of work, exiting to a hearty applause having surrendered two runs. Righty Ryan Cook then allowed both of Parker's baserunners to score in an inning that simply got out of hand, a six-run deficit ultimately too much to overcome -- even for these drama-obsessed A's.
Verlander made the task doubly difficult.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award and MVP winner, who just five days prior fired seven innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts against the A's, again showcased his best, getting calls on and off the plate and fanning 11 while allowing just five baserunners in the complete-game performance.
"He kept us in check all night," Josh Donaldson said. "We still feel like we had a chance going into the game, but he stopped us in our tracks. He keeps you guessing up there. He's never going to throw you the same pitch twice, and you always got it in the back of your head that he can get up to 96, 97 [mph] and even higher at times."
Just four A's hits were tallied, the first of which was put into play by Yoenis Cespedes, who exited the ALDS as the only Oakland hitter to reach base in all five games. He ended his first Major League season riding a seven-game hitting streak and compiled hits in 22 of his final 24 games.
Not much noise was made around him, though, particularly from Reddick, whose first career postseason culminated in a 2-for-17 showing with 10 of the A's 50 strikeouts in the series -- the latter total breaking an Oakland record for most whiffs in a postseason series that went five games.
"It's tough to stop Verlander," manager Bob Melvin said. "We didn't think it was going to end today, not for a second. We knew we were going up against a good pitcher, but that didn't mean we didn't think we were going to win. We've gone up against good pitchers this year, and it's a bit of a shock when it finally does end. It was a heck of a story. It was a heck of a run for us.
"But it doesn't feel any better at the end of the day when you end up going home. It's a pretty empty feeling, but hopefully we can go farther next year."
It's a plausible vision, considering much of Melvin's squad is set to return in 2013.
"The nucleus we got here is pretty good, and it'd be nice to keep it together for awhile," Cliff Pennington said.
"You look past this night right here, we conquered a lot," Jonny Gomes added. "I think we brought baseball back to Oakland. Wearing the green and gold and the white spikes, I think it's something to be wanted."