OAKLAND -- On Friday and Saturday, they couldn't score early. On Sunday, they scored early but made a critical mistake on the bases that rendered another last-gasp charge meaningless. The results were the same, as were the top and bottom of the American League West throughout the three-game series at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum that ended with the Angels' 5-3 victory in the season finale for the last-place A's.
Oakland closed out its third consecutive losing season with its longest losing streak of the season, at seven games. The loss also stuck the A's with a losing record at home, 40-41. "We didn't swing the bats that well and made some mistakes," A's manager Bob Geren said. "Not the way we wanted to finish." Suddenly, Oakland's encouraging post-All-Star break surge seemed like exactly what some cynics were already calling it: a mirage. Veteran infielder Nomar Garciaparra, who went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored a run in what might be the final game of his brilliant career, isn't among the cynics. But he's not among those who viewed the team's strong September as a sure sign of better days to come. Garciaparra considers himself a realist, and this is what he had to say about a 2009 season that featured a franchise-record 161 days spent in last place, including the final 155. "If you look as the season as a whole, it was a disappointment," said Garciaparra, the only one of four big-name offseason acquisitions to finish the year with the team, outlasting Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera and Jason Giambi. "It was an awful season, and going into the offseason, nobody here should be kidding themselves about what a bad year it was. You have to feel that, and hopefully do whatever it takes to make sure you don't feel it again." The A's have felt this feeling for a while now. Since replacing manager Ken Macha with Bob Geren after losing the 2006 AL Championship Series to the Tigers, Oakland has seen its winning percentage drop for three consecutive seasons and hasn't finished higher than third place in the four-team AL West. Geren is to cynicism what Archie Bunker was to hearts and flowers, but even Geren wasn't about to sugar-coat what happened in the final week of the season, which included a three-game sweep in Seattle before the Angels came into town to spoil Fan Appreciation Weekend. "We had some guys struggling at the end," Geren said. "When you look back on the past six to eight weeks, we played some good baseball. This wasn't one of them." The Angels, who have won the AL West five times in six years, got five solid innings from left-hander Joe Saunders and a home run from catcher Mike Napoli in their 97th win of the regular season. The A's, after scratching scheduled starter Edgar Gonzalez and declaring the finale an all-hands-on-deck game for its stellar bullpen, started lefty Brad Kilby and got two no-hit innings from the rookie before the rest of the bullpen took over and squandered a 2-0 lead. "I treated it just like I was coming into a game [instead of starting it]," Kilby said. "I don't know if you noticed or not, but I didn't start warming up until 12:58 p.m., after the national anthem. But it was pretty fun." Oakland got a sacrifice fly from rookie Matt Carson and an RBI single from Eric Patterson in the second inning, but they blew a shot at a bigger inning on Carson's sacrifice fly. Daric Barton, trying to tag up from first on the play, was doubled off after the throw from the outfield went through to the plate and Napoli fired down to second. "That's a mistake," Geren said. "He hesitated a little bit, and it cost him." Napoli's homer off Jerry Blevins in the third started a comeback that included a three-run fifth against righty Jeff Gray. The lead went to 5-2 when Craig Breslow was charged with a balk in the sixth, and the A's trimmed it on an RBI single by Cliff Pennington with two out in the ninth. Rajai Davis, who collected his 27th double and finished the season with a team-high .305 batting average, struck out to end the game. Garciaparra, 36, said he hasn't decided if he's going to play next year, but it almost certainly will not be with Oakland. Thus, the fans behind the home dugout gave him a nice ovation after he struck out in his final at-bat. "I'm not going to make an emotional decision on [next year] right now," he said. "Right now I'm happy the season's over, but sad because the season isn't continuing. I'm always sad when my team doesn't make it to the postseason. But I really enjoyed playing here. Great bunch of guys and a lot of good young talent." Asked if it dawned on him at any point that his career might be coming to an end with a fairly meaningless game in Oakland, thousands of miles away -- literally and figuratively -- from the white-hot spotlight of Boston in which he thrived for the first nine years of his 14-year career, Garciaparra played coy. "I didn't even think about that," he said before breaking into a sly smile. "Maybe that's telling me something. I don't know."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.