NEW YORK -- When the 2001 Oakland A's did something, they generally did it big. There was a certain style, a certain flair to almost everything they did.
|The A's failed to advance past the first round for the second consecutive year.
When General Manager Billy Beane made a midseason move, for instance, he got Jermaine Dye in the biggest heist of the summer. When Miguel Tejada hit for the cycle late in the year, he capped it with a grand slam. When Mark Mulder won his 20th game, it clinched the American League Wild Card.
And of course, there was the monster moment when the A's swept a crucial six-game homestand in August against Boston and the Yankees. Jason Giambi capped it with a walk-off homer off All-Star Mike Stanton.
Drama was a given with this team, everything larger than life. That's what made it so tough for the A's to swallow the fashion in which their season came to an end: They came up small on the game's biggest stage.
After winning the first two games of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, the A's dropped the next two games at home to force Game 5 on Monday back in the Bronx. Then they played their worst big game of the year in being eliminated, 5-3.
"You come this far, you want to play a good, solid game," said Manager Art Howe. "If you lose playing well, you tip your cap. Tonight we contributed quite a bit to our demise. That's too bad."
The score doesn't begin to tell how ugly it was for Oakland. Injuries, errors and arguments low-lighted the completion of its utter collapse.
"Every game, every pitch, every at-bat is important," said Ron Gant, Oakland's most veteran playoff performer. "This is what it's all about, and if you let up any, you'll find yourself in trouble. They just played better baseball than we did over the last three games. That's why they're world champions."
Whatever negative juju developed Sunday in Oakland, where Jermaine Dye's season came to an end and shoddy defensive play contributed to an embarrassing 9-2 loss, it came across the country with the A's that night.
Oakland jumped out to a 2-0 lead off future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens but quickly gave it back when Mark Mulder allowed a two-run single to New York's No. 9 hitter, Alfonso Soriano. Then it really got bad.
First starting catcher Ramon Hernandez suffered a sprained wrist, forcing backup Greg Myers into action. Myers made one of the two errors that, along with a walk and an HBP, allowed the Yankees to score the go-ahead run in the third. Another error led to New York's fourth run.
"We made a few mistakes, and the Yankees took advantage of them," said DH Jeremy Giambi. "I don't think we handed it to them. They just kind of took it."
Then it got really, really bad. With runners at the corners in the fifth, Jason Giambi banged the third of his four hits into right field, cutting the lead to one. But because the runner at first, Tejada, failed to get to third, Giambi was visibly fuming. He was madder still when the next batter, Eric Chavez, lifted a fly ball to left that would have been more than enough to get the tying run across had Tejada been at third.
When the inning came to an end, Tejada and Giambi engaged in an animated shouting match right there on the infield. The seams were clearly frayed.
"He was upset, but I didn't want to get thrown out at third, and that's what I told him," said Tejada. "But we cleared it up later. That's a good teammate. It was just emotion coming out, and there's nothing wrong with emotion. That's good."
The kiss-and-makeup deal aside, it didn't look good at all. And it got worse. Tim Hudson, who had been so brilliant all year and particularly in winning Game 2, came on in relief and gave up an insurance homer to David Justice. The final insult came in the bottom of the eighth, when Chuck Knoblauch caught the A's napping and stole third without drawing a throw.
It was inconsequential, really, but it illustrated just how out of it the A's were.
"Our defense cost us the game," Howe said. "It didn't have anything to do with the stage or whatever. We just didn't play well defensively tonight. It happens. We just picked a bad time to do it."
So the A's, who hadn't lost three in a row since a four-game slide Aug. 21-24, bowed out with their third consecutive clunker. Did the A's choke? Did they feel the pressure? Beane was at his diplomatic best when these same two questions came in a million different forms.
"The expectations changed when we went home up 2-0. It created expectations that, in turn, might have affected us," he said. "Did it turn up the pressure? That's certainly a possibility, but it wouldn't be fair for me to answer that one way or another. You'd have to ask the players that. It's not fair for someone not wearing a uniform to even speculate on."
Howe had a uniform on when he was asked the same questions. He was a little more forthcoming.
"We've played under tough situations all season long and have been able to play well. For whatever reason, we didn't make the plays tonight."
And now they've got all winter to think about it. Center fielder Johnny Damon said it won't be easy.
"It's just disheartening to know that we were so close to advancing and didn't get it done," he said. "The playoffs are magical, but it doesn't always work out the way you want it to, and I'm sure this is going to hurt for a while."
Mychael Urban covers the Athletics for MLB.com.