OAKLAND -- Excitement and dread. Euphoria and frustration. Bravado and fear. A's fans felt it all during Game 5 of this tense ALDS series against the Detroit Tigers.
And with good reason. All too often, the 21st century A's have stormed into the postseason only to be sent home in a Game 5, often in heartbreaking fashion. Would Thursday night end in euphoria after finally getting over the first-round hump? Or would it be the sporting equivalent of a young man's wake, where fading triumphs mix bittersweetly with thoughts of what might have been.
Underneath the usual sea of green-and-gold tailgate parties outside O.co Coliseum, Oakland fans admitted to feeling a strange mix of conflicting emotions.
Tony Williams, Robbie Block and all their friends were nursing drinks in the sun-kissed parking lot, appearing if not all feeling entirely relaxed.
"I have terrible anxiety, because if they lose then it could invalidate a great season," said Williams, 26, of San Francisco.
Block, 27, of El Cerrito, shook his head and blurted, "I'm the polar opposite." He added: "I ain't even worried -- easy, breezy."
Block predicted that Oakland's crowd would will the hometown nine to victory. "Detroit's crowd was really quiet," he said. "Here, it's a whole new ballgame."
In past years, unfortunately, it has been the same old ballgame in series finales, making "Game 5" a four-letter word in Oakland.
The list of postseason failure in the Billy Beane era includes:
(The A's also lost the 2006 ALCS, that time in four games to those same Tigers.)
Amid the litany of October heartbreak, A's supporters could be forgiven for being testy. One tailgate party featured a poster of supermodel Kate Upton, an ex-girlfriend of Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander -- a frequent A's nemesis and the Game 5 starter. An accompanying sign read, "Tough year, Justin? Losing Kate and Game 5."
A few feet away, an A's fan yelled to no one in particular, "I. Hate. Verlander!"
This era's A's are like the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early 1950s and the Oakland Raiders in the early '70s. Each was a great, storied franchise on the "other side of the bridge" with an iconic leader: The old Dodgers had Branch Rickey, the Raiders had Al Davis, and today's A's have general manager Beane, as portrayed by Brad Pitt in the "Moneyball" movie.
And each franchise struggled with winning the big one, to the heartbreak of their legendary colorful and passionate fans. Eventually, those Raiders and Dodgers teams won their championship. Could these A's finally do it right here, right now?
You bet, said Judith Casarez and Kathy Aldana, twin sisters from Sacramento. The twins said they have been coming to A's games since then-owner Charlie Finley moved the team to Oakland in 1968.
Casarez predicted the Athletics would finally get over the hump. "I know they remember the feeling from (losing) last year's series," she said. "I feel good about winning because it's our time."
Would there be tears shed if their boys fell short? "There's no crying in baseball!" Aldana said, laughing.
Esteban Contreras, a 35-year-old A's die-hard, waved a bottle of champagne at his tailgate, saying it was his team's turn to taste the bubbly. "Statistically, we're due," he said. "The odds are in our favor."
Inside the Coliseum, the A's faithful were itching to celebrate, too. They applauded starting pitcher and savior-in-waiting Sonny Gray, who sauntered onto the field 40 minutes before first pitch. They roared when he struck out Austin Jackson to start the game, and chanted, "Sonny! Sonny!" throughout the contest.
But the old, proud yard went silent when Tigers infielder Miguel Cabrera knocked a two-run homer in the top of the fourth, giving Detroit a lead they would never relinquish. They added a run in the sixth. Verlander, meanwhile, was nearly perfect, holding the A's scoreless on two hits through 8 innings.
When Seth Smith flied out to right for the final out, the Oakland faithful chanted "Let's go, Oakland" for a full minute. But they could not prolong the season with their voices. Detroit's ace -- now the A's biggest nemesis -- and the burden of recent history worked in concert to break Oakland's heart once again.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.