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Crashing defeat for Giants

MIAMI --The San Francisco Giants invested a lot in this baseball season, given that they thought they had been cheated out of their true destiny in Game 6 of last year's World Series.

They attacked 2003 with a fiendish delight, making a mockery of the easily mockable National League West. They led the division for all but about seven hours of the season, won 100 games, and looked very forward to claiming the crown wrongly stolen from them by the cruelest of fates.

Oh, and Troy Glaus.

So now they can look forward to 2004, and hateful dreams of Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Conine. All those 100 wins got them was a finger in the eye up to the third knuckle, and the knowledge that, at least for them, it is better to be the wild card than to have it dealt to you.

Saturday's 7-6 loss to the Florida Marlins was as strange an ending as can be manufactured at the home office, with J.T. Snow tagged out at the plate barely 10 minutes after and two feet away from where I-Rod knocked the ball from Yorvit Torrealba's hand to give the Marlins the winning runs.

The game was, by any measure, a triumph of weirdo drama and Benzedrine-fueled imaginations. The Marlins advanced, and they earned it plenty.

The Giants, on the other hand, went home, with disappointment, anger and recrimination riding shotgun.

"We fought our asses off,'' general manager Brian Sabean said with molar-grinding purpose, "but they're a better team. Having said that, I thought we should have won Game 2, and we should have won Game 3. I thought we should have won three straight.''

And Gray Davis thought he should have hit the weight room like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sometimes what you think ain't what is.

But here IS what is: The Giants did nothing to prove in October what they spent all of April, May, June, July, August and September establishing --- their pedigree.

In fact, they have reached the postseason four times in seven years and been knocked out each time by a wild-card team -- Florida in '97, the Mets in '00, the Angels last year, and now the Marlins again.

They had such dreams, such hopes, such plans. Now, they have golf dates.

"To me, the season is a failure,'' shortstop Rich Aurilia said. "We did a lot of things right, and we proved a lot of people wrong, but we knew what kind of club we had, and we knew we could get back to where we were last year. So the bottom line is, we're losers and they're winners. If anyone in this room disagrees with me, they're lying to you.''

"They had more luck and magic than we did,'' Sabean said, sounding more envious than bitter, "but you know what? You make your own luck and magic. You looked up, and if (Jeff) Conine wasn't involved in it, I-Rod was. Our guys weren't involved in it enough.''

There was some pregame debate about Felipe Alou's lineup, and particularly the name ""Jerome Williams'' where many people speculated ""Jason Schmidt.'' But as is often the case with potentially delicious pregame scenarios, the game was decided elsewhere, by others.

More remarkably, the game was not decided by Barry Bonds, the central figure in the entire 2002 postseason. Bonds was neutralized by the Florida pitchers, who had been informed by manager Jack McKeon (who was not, by the way, separated at birth from Leonid Brezhnev) that he would be pitched to only when circumstances demanded.

As a result, he walked eight times in the four games, and though he drove two balls to the deepest part of Pro Player Stadium, none of them reached the breathtakingly orange seats.

The Giants did not lose because of this. They lost because they turned into the San Diego Padres at a really bad time.

Their highly touted bullpen failed (11 runs and 18 hits in 15 2/3 innings), their defense failed (seven errors in four games), and their hitting failed (fifth-place hitter Edgardo Alfonzo hit .529, the one-through-four spots hit .203, and the six through nine spots hit .183).

In short, they weren't the Giants as advertised. They were the Giants forced to a play a team that matched up with them far too well for their own good.

"We didn't play well when we had to. It could have been a seven-game series, or a ten-game series, but the team that played earlier in the season didn't turn up. If you win 100 games, you expect a lot more. But we didn't play like a 100-game winner. In the perfect world, they had the 100, and we had the 91.''

But if you ask a Marlin, any Marlin, the perfect world is the one right here, the one where they wait for Atlanta and Chicago to stop fiddling about with each other, the one in which the Giants go slinking back to the Bay Area with all their grand plans in shards.

After all, they're the ones who didn't win 91 games. They're playing with the casino's money, which after all is still the second-best money there is.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com