General Manager Jerry Dipoto was convinced the Angels could win not only Sunday night's do-or-die game against the Kansas City Royals "but 10 more games" if they could get their high-powered offense on track.
"This team can be electric when we get it rolling," Dipoto said. "Really, it's just tipping the rock off the cliff and letting it go."
But that rock turned out to be a boulder, the cliff was a steep incline, and the Angels were Sisyphus. Every push was met with Royal resistance; every inch of ground they gained, they'd lose a yard until they were ultimately crushed by a Royal force they could not slow.
Kansas City completed a three-game American League division series sweep of the Angels with an 8-3 Game 3 victory before a rowdy, broom-wielding crowd of 40,657 in Kauffman Stadium, where it poured Angels relievers, actual rain at times and eventually champagne, which flowed freely in the home clubhouse.
The Royals' first playoff appearance since 1985 will continue in the AL Championship Series against the Baltimore Orioles starting Friday.
The Angels' first playoff appearance since 2009 ended abruptly, with three straight losses, a bitter finish to a season in which they forged a major league-best 98-64 record and seemed primed for a deep October run.
"It's not the way we wanted it to end, but give the Royals a lot of credit," said Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who struck out to end the game. "When they needed a big play, they made it. When they needed a big hit, they got it. Offensively, we didn't do our jobs. It's tough."
After losing a pair of 11-inning games in Anaheim, Trout gave the Angels their first lead of the series with his first playoff hit, a home run to left field off Royals starter James Shields in the first inning.
But Alex Gordon roped a three-run double off C.J. Wilson in the bottom of the first, ending the Angels starter's night after two-thirds of an inning, and Eric Hosmer hit a two-run homer in the third for a 5-1 Kansas City lead.
Albert Pujols led off the fourth with a homer to make it 5-2. Erick Aybar doubled with one out, his second of four hits, and David Freese was hit by a pitch. But Josh Hamilton grounded into a fielder's choice, C.J. Cron struck out to end the inning, and Kansas city tacked on two in the bottom of the fourth for a 7-2 lead.
Then with two on in the fifth, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain robbed Pujols and Howie Kendrick of hits, racing to shallow left-center for a diving catch of Pujols' liner and to shallow center for a sliding catch of Kendrick's flare, Cain's teammates doffing their caps to him in reverence.
"If my ball drops, maybe Trout eventually scores from first, and instead of 7-2 it's 7-4, and anything can happen," Pujols said. "But they made some great plays. It seems like the momentum never went our way."
Blame the enigmatic and erratic Wilson for that. In the biggest start of his Angels career, the veteran left-hander came up Lilliputian, failing to get out of the first inning and yielding to a parade of seven relievers.
Manager Mike Scioscia made it clear before the game that Wilson would be on a short leash, saying, "Our whole staff is going to have to get it done if one guy stubs his toe." Wilson didn't stub his toe. He tripped over himself and fell down a flight of stairs.
Nori Aoki and Cain singled with one out in the first. The next two plate appearances captured Wilson in a nutshell — he struck out Hosmer on three pitches and walked Billy Butler on four pitches to load the bases.
Gordon drove a curve on the outside corner to the wall in left-center to give the Royals a 3-1 lead, and Scioscia pulled Wilson, making his the shortest non-injury-related playoff start since St. Louis left-hander Rick Ankiel lasted two-thirds of an inning against the New York Mets on Oct. 12, 2000.
"I felt like I was physically, mentally and strategically prepared, I just didn't execute that last pitch," Wilson said. "I had a good plan. I tried to get him to hit a fly ball to Trout, and he hit it harder than I thought.
"You make one bad pitch in a game like this, and that's it. It's a little surreal. I feel like it puts an exclamation point on the fact that I couldn't get anything to go my way."