OAKLAND, Calif. — The final rally of Oakland's surprising season fell short.
In a year featuring a majors-best 14 walkoff wins, another in Game 4 of the AL division series, and countless whipped cream pie celebrations along the way, the Athletics' comeback season ended with another dropped series to Detroit.
Yet nobody thought this bunch of rookies and newcomers would even be playing well into October. And few gave them a fighting chance after falling behind 2-0 in the best-of-five series before Oakland pulled off another remarkable rally to force a decisive Game 5.
The Tigers won Thursday's clincher 6-0.
"I didn't see it ending this way, you know?" closer Grant Balfour said. "I honestly thought something crazy might happen out there and we'd throw a couple up there and we'd pull it out, but it didn't work out that way. We have to hold our heads high. We had a great year. It's just frustrating when you're that close and you feel like you got a taste of it and someone takes it away from you."
The AL West champion A's became the first team in major league history to win a division or pennant after trailing by five games with less than 10 to play.
General manager Billy Beane plans to keep his team intact as much as possible heading toward 2013.
Yet manager Bob Melvin had a tough time looking ahead Friday, the sting of losing still too fresh a day later. He planned to fly home to New York on Saturday.
"If you want to go back and reflect on what the expectations were, probably pretty remarkable," he said, sitting in his office Friday as players trickled into the clubhouse to pack up their belongings. "But once you get into it, you are who you are, and it's a pretty empty day. I didn't plan on spending my day like this today."
This is the club that held not one but two clubhouse clinch parties in three days last week, first when it secured a playoff spot and again after winning the West for the first time in six years.
Melvin was in full support of his team celebrating its feats. Especially considering everything the A's had endured in the final months. From losing opening day starter Brandon McCarthy after he took a line drive to the head that required brain surgery, fellow starter Bartolo Colon to a 50-game drug suspension and then, the unthinkable: Reliever Pat Neshek's newborn son, Gehrig, died 23 hours after his birth just before the playoffs began.
More than anything, they stuck together.
"I think we're in great shape," Beane said. "The satisfying thing about the crowd last night is they're going to see, by and large, this team next year. We're going to try to continue the momentum in the winter, and we should be able to build on this. I really like this group."
Josh Reddick, whose big bat fueled a stunning run to overtake Texas for the AL West crown on the season's final day, struck out 10 times in the series and the A's finished with 50 Ks — the most in franchise history in a five-game series.
He was hardly the only one in a series of swings and misses by a team that was red-hot and riding high only a week ago.
"We came a long way and accomplished a lot, so we're obviously upset that it didn't go very far," Reddick said. "But on the other hand very proud of everybody's accomplishments this year, personal and team-wise. I feel like we made a huge mark on this league."
This energetic young group with 12 rookies heads into the offseason as great overachievers. Owner Lew Wolff has said it, Beane hinted at it and even Manager of the Year candidate Melvin said most everybody else in baseball would never have seen this coming from the low-budget club.
The A's payroll of $59.5 million is lowest in the majors, and the A's won 94 games.
That's after Beane traded away three of his top pitchers last winter to rebuild: Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, Trevor Cahill to Arizona and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to Boston.
He doesn't expect to unload the same way this offseason considering the youth of the team. Beane hopes to bring back would-be free agents Jonny Gomes and McCarthy and pick up Balfour's $4.5 million club option for 2013.
Upstart Oakland made a remarkable September surge, then swept and stunned the two-time reigning AL champion Texas Rangers in the season-ending series to capture the AL West crown in Game No. 162. That set off a second celebratory dance party in the clubhouse in three days after Oakland first secured a playoff spot Oct. 1.
"It's definitely been the greatest experience of my career," said center fielder Coco Crisp, who had his share of success with the Red Sox and won the 2007 World Series with Boston. "It was a lot of fun. Of course everybody hates that it has to end right now."
The A's became the first team in major league history to win the division or pennant after trailing by five or more games with fewer than 10 to go. The A's were five back of the Rangers with nine left, then won their final six all at home with sweeps of Seattle and Texas.
But the Tigers got them again. Just as Detroit did in a four-game sweep in the 2006 AL championship series — the last postseason appearance by the A's.
Melvin and hitting coach Chili Davis called strikeouts part of the game for the powerful A's, whose 112 homers after the All-Star break were the most in baseball.
Yoenis Cespedes wrapped up his sensational rookie season by batting .316 (6 for 19) with two RBIs in the playoffs. Though he didn't want to discuss his year Friday while gathering his things — "next year," he said.
"We have nothing to hang our heads low about," Reddick said. "We had a great season and came really a long way and proved a lot of people wrong."
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