To put into the context what the Oakland A's accomplished in 2012, winning their division and pushing a first-round playoff series to the limit, one must consider their humble beginnings.
They opened the season braced for a rebuilding year, wanting to believe they had identified a cornerstone and hoping to squeeze one more productive season from two old men.
They failed on all four counts.
And still, they prevailed. They endured. The A's actually thrived amid the chaos of constant turnover to evolve into that rarely glimpsed sports phenomena: the accidental contender.
This season was not a mirage. It was not a fluke. What we saw actually did happen, Oakland posting a 94-68 record and summoning the resolve to take Detroit to the maximum five games in the American League Division Series before being eliminated.
"It hurts right now,'' third baseman Josh Donaldson said in the wake of the Game 5 loss. "But what's special about this team is we went out there every day and gave it our all. And we were pretty successful.''
Don't expect a repeat performance. It simply can't happen. Even if the A's somehow contend next season, and they just might, the 2012 script can't be reproduced. They cannot again come from the seeds of widespread doubt stemming from justifiably diminished expectations.
After this remarkable season, everybody will know the A's are coming.
Yet for most of this summer, as 2012 unfolded, nobody saw them at all, perhaps because they were not the team they thought they would be or the team everyone expected them to be.
The cornerstone was supposed to be a dynamic, smallish second baseman, Jemile Weeks, who had been in the big leagues for 114 days.
The old men were Bartolo Colon and Manny Ramirez, each nearly a decade past his prime and fading gracelessly under clouds related to performance-enhancing drugs.
None of the three was on the roster that rocked baseball and shocked the nation.
Weeks, 25, led all rookies with a .303 average and eight triples in 2011. Oakland's first-round pick in the 2008 draft, he stole 22 bases and entered spring training as a fixture atop the lineup. He starred in the team's marketing campaign; a giant mural of Weeks on a hangar at Oakland International Airport is visible from a mile away.
He struggled this season and was demoted to the minors on Aug. 21 -- one day before Colon, 39, was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, a banned substance.
As for Ramirez, he never even reached Oakland. The 12-time All-Star began the season serving a 50-game suspension after a positive drug test last year. A little more than two weeks after joining the A's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, the 40-year-old requested and was granted his release.
The splendid accident is that the A's flourished without them.
Good baseball teams generally are built by assembling good young talent and allowing it to develop over several years, or by adding quality -- and costly -- players to a solid roster under a smart and perceptive manager.
That's what Texas has done in winning the A.L. West the past few seasons. That's what the Los Angeles Angels planned to do in 2012, adding the likes of slugger Albert Pujols and All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson -- investments of more than $300 million. It was universally expected the division would be settled between these teams.
The A's last winter went in the opposite direction. They pared the payroll.
General manager Billy Beane and his staff traded the team's last three All-Stars to collect plenty of good young talent.
That talent, however, developed at an astonishing pace under manager Bob Melvin. Beane and his staff constantly shipped players back and forth on I-80 between Oakland and Sacramento. The A's utilized 19 rookies; rookies accounted for two-thirds of their postseason pitching staff.
Somehow, the A's did in 2012 what the brain trust hoped they might do in 2014.
This premature excellence stunned baseball people and, over the final weeks, charmed most everyone with even cursory interest in the game.
The A's bridged the gap between low expectations and exceptional results.
"It was a heck of a story,'' Melvin said. "It was a heck of a run for us.
"But it doesn't feel any better at the end of the day when you end up going home. It's a pretty empty feeling, but hopefully we can go farther next year.''
Don't bet on that. Baseball organizations have a tremendous capacity to adjust. That's why it's such a challenge for even well-funded franchises to consistently contend.
Even if the A's somehow exceed 94 wins and run deeper into the playoffs, this feeling can't be duplicated.
The element of surprise will be gone.
And that, after all, is what made this season so enchanting.