OAKLAND A night earlier, in the chaotic moments after the A's forced the American League Division Series to a decisive Game 5, Seth Smith was asked to qualify the "magic" the A's seemed to possess all year in such abundance.
His answer had nothing to do with the supernatural. "At some point," Smith reasoned, "it's got to just be good baseball."
The explanation came with a flip side. And as the A's fell 6-0 to the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of their ALDS, there was no mystery to it.
Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander gave a masterful pitching performance, striking out 11 in a four-hit shutout to send Detroit to the A.L. Championship Series, and the A's saw their fun-park ride of a season come to an end at home on a chilly Thursday night.
"I don't know if disappointment's the word," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "It's definitely a little disheartening just for the simple fact that we're not going to be able to come back here as a team, go out and go to battle on the field anymore.
"This was such a special season. Obviously we wanted to go all the way. We fell a little bit short tonight."
It will be remembered as an improbable and exhilarating season. The A's traded their top three pitchers over the winter, lost third baseman Scott Sizemore on the first day of spring training and were picked by many experts to finish at the bottom of the A.L. West.
They were eight games under .500 in early June and finished the season with five rookies in their starting rotation. But in the second half, no team won more games or hit more home runs.
Trailing the Texas Rangers by five games in the West with nine to go, the A's made up the deficit on the final day, beating the Rangers before a raucous crowd that realized what was unfolding at O.co Coliseum.
"We kind of pulled the title belt off some quote-unquote experts," outfielder Jonny Gomes said. "It was special, and I think we really brought the love for baseball back into the area. And a lot of these guys should be proud of that."
The A's fell behind the Tigers in the division series 2-0, and then tied it, rallying in the ninth inning in Game 4.
Verlander lurked in Game 5.
The reigning Cy Young Award winner and baseball's strikeout leader this year, Verlander got Coco Crisp swinging on a changeup leading off the first.
Stephen Drew swung through a 96-mph fastball for the second out. Yoenis Cespedes then lined a fastball into left-center for a double, but the A's did not have another hit until the fifth inning.
Crisp said Verlander seemed to have some of his best stuff. "After the first at-bat, you can't really tell if it's going to be one of those nights," Crisp said. "But I knew after my first at-bat that his changeup was going to be a difficult pitch today."
Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland of his ace: "He had that look in his eyes today. He was determined."
The A's struck out 50 times in the series, an Oakland record for a five-game series. Verlander had 22 of them in 16 innings. Five times he got Josh Reddick, who set an A's record for strikeouts in a postseason series with 10.
"It's tough (enough) facing him once every two months," Reddick said. "We know what he's going to bring to the table. He can throw anything he wants to in any count."
The Tigers struck for two runs against rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker in the third inning and broke the game open in the seventh.
With runners on first and third, Detroit's Austin Jackson hit a liner. Second baseman Cliff Pennington leapt, and it glanced off his glove and into right field. A hush fell over the announced crowd of 36,393 like a pall as Jhonny Peralta came in to score the first of four runs in the inning.
The A's put two runners on in the eighth. "All of a sudden, who knows?" Pennington said. "You know that the Tigers were thinking about it, and that's the kind of team we were."
But Verlander retired Crisp on a groundout, and the Tigers' bullpen was silent as the starter came back out for the ninth.
Last week, the A's punctuated their division crown by mobbing each other on the infield. Thursday night, as Smith grounded out to end the game, the Tigers did so in the same spot.
The crowd, at first, booed. Then they began to cheer, many waving their gold towels. The Tigers applauded toward the home dugout as well Gomes called it "one of the most professional things I've seen on the field" and as the A's players filtered slowly out of their dugout, doffing their caps, a voice came over the public address system.
"One more round of applause," it said, "for a great season."