OAKLAND -- Bob Melvin saw Ryan Cook in the hallway outside his office, hugged him and said, Its a start.And Cook agreed. For him, and for the Oakland Athletics, its a hell of a start.Then again, baseball is a cruel master, and it punishes with the same swiftness as it rewards. The demands of staying in the fight are far greater than getting in it in the first place. They even give the process by which swift improvement is followed by equally swift retrenchment.The Plexiglass Principle. A fancy phrase for regressing back toward the mean.And we mention this only to remind one and all that the hard part has just begun, now that the fun is over.This night, a 6-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the fifth game of this fly-or-die American League Division Series, is one that will last with the players a good long while. They got to see Detroits Justin Verlander at the lung-constricting top of his game, so much so that the atmosphere in the Coliseum started to thin.Then it occurred to some nameless soul or souls in the crowd that this season demanded more, and at the end of the seventh inning, after Yoenis Cespedes had popped up to Prince Fielder and Verlander had caught Seth Smith and Josh Reddick looking at bastard pitches, they began a slow but growing roar.They could do nothing about Verlander nobody could but they could see to it that their team would not go out feeling like failures.So they roared, and they chanted, and they did not stop even when Verlander stopped with a seamless ninth inning. They booed the Tigers for a few moments, and then started chanting Lets Go Oak-Land to salute their freshly fallen favorites.And it struck a chord, enough to make the players stay and salute them back rather than slink to a dry and morose clubhouse. They tried to be a force in the game, which technically is impossible and on this night was a ludicrous suggestion, but they were noticed.I don't know if you believe this, Detroit manager Jim Leyland said, (but) I told one of my coaches on the bench, I said, We need about a four spot to take this crowd out of this thing (which they got in the seventh inning to turn 2-0 into the final margin).And we never did take them out of it. They were through them through the thick and thin. As we were celebrating, they were applauding their players. It was a great gesture on the fans' part. And they're the real deal. This was no fluke, they're very impressive.Leyland was saluting the As at the end, for he is faced with the knowledge that he enters the ALCS against either New York or Baltimore able to use Verlander only in Game 3, or if he stretches, Games 3 and 7. It took that much to beat down the As, and it would have taken even more to convince Verlander to leave for the sake of prudence. As Leyland said, He had a complete game look in his eye.Oakland, on the other hand, went as far as they had the right to hope because of that. The As learned how to win, how to keep winning, and how to run with the swiftest. They even learned how to be the darlings of a town whose fans have been beaten down by bad results and reluctant ownership.And it is very possible that they will never have a more enjoyable season in their lives.On the other hand, as we said, baseballs cruelties are many and varied, and one of them is the suddenness of the landing. The offseason can be a valuable time for recharging, but it also hold uncertainties, and in one case, long and concentrated mourning.Pat Neshek packed his bag slowly while media types crowded around Coco Crisp. He packed his hats, his workout clothes, even a box of Bazooka bubble gum, all in silence, as he began the long trip home to resume mourning for his son, who died the night the As clinched the AL West, and the day after he was born.Neshek did stop for a postgame meal with A.J. Griffin and Evan Scribner, and share the last few shards of a great season and a horrible October, because especially at times like those that await him and his wife, a smile is worth a million dollars, and the chant of 36,000 of his newest friends at least a billion.So yes, the off-season is filled with promise and trepidation, continuity and change. This roster will be altered in the winter because all rosters are, but they will always have 2012 together, and the sound of Lets Go Oak-Land in their heads for as long as their heads will hold it.This isnt what people mean by the hometown discount, but its a much better definition than the one in common use. Oakland regained its love for baseball, its team, and for the attitude and aptitude that team brought to a town that responds to those qualities most of all. Oakland went Thursday night. It went big.