SAN FRANCISCO -- Two Octobers ago, the San Francisco Giants were the lousiest team, playing in the worst stadium in the National League.

The closest thing to a human wave at Candlestick Park at the end of 1985, when the Giants lost a team-record 100 games and finished 33 games out of first, was three fans going to the hot dog stand at the same time.

So this week, when the Giants clinched their first championship in 16 years, after a shamelessly heroic season, Giants Manager Roger Craig was understandably overstated: "We'll win it all. We're a team of destiny," he said, wearing a cap of champagne suds on his bare head after Monday night's 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres.

It was fitting that the NL West should be won in San Diego, and not just because the Padres fired Craig eight years ago. Dave Dravecky, who started the game, was traded by the Padres to the Giants this summer along with starting third baseman Kevin Mitchell and reliever Craig Lefferts.

That Fourth of July trade, and two later thefts of pitchers Don Robinson and Rick Reuschel from the Pirates, saved the Giants from a characteristic midsummer swoon. It also infected folks in this laid-back city with a rare case of baseball fever. During the last two months, mildewed SF baseball caps began appearing on heads.

When Giants owner Bob Lurie hired general manager Al Rosen two years ago, a press conference was called. Some folks feared Lurie would announce that the team was moving to a more hospitable city. Instead he promised a pennant.

That promise seemed as shallow as most sports talk during the first week of last August. The Giants, who had shared first place for much of the spring, blew two leads in a 6-5, 11-inning loss to Houston on Aug. 5, to fall into third place, five games behind Cincinnati.

Key players, including Candy Maldonado and Jeffrey Leonard, were injured. Normally reliable pitcher Mike Krukow was having a terrible year. The team seemed poised for a plunge.

But during the next four days, the Giants turned the season around by sweeping four games from the Reds. During the next two months, Mitchell began hitting like an MVP. Robinson, Dravecky and Lefferts -- Rosen's boys of summer -- became the best pitching threesome in either league. And after Reuschel was obtained on Aug. 21, he won five of his first six decisions.

By the first week in September, the Giants led by five games. The race effectively was over. It seemed appropriate, however, that the official end to the chase came on an eighth inning home run by pitcher Robinson on Monday.

"I'm not exactly a big home run hitter," admitted Robinson, who hadn't put one out of a park in more than two seasons. "But I got that one good."

Throughout the season a different Giants' hero -- from Maldonado, Leonard and Mitchell to Mike Aldrete, Chris Speier, Chili Davis and Will Clark -- seemed to emerge with regularity to carry the team.

So good was the clutch hitting, Craig was platooning some of the best hitters in the National League. His greatest success may have been his ability to convince Davis, Leonard, Aldrete and Eddie Milner to accept part-time roles.

Monday night, for example, Craig used both Davis and Leonard as pinch hitters. And both hit home runs, the 100th career homer for each. Then in the ninth inning with a runner on third and two outs, Craig decided to walk to the mound to keep Robinson in the game.

"He just said: 'The champagne's on ice,' " said Robinson after the game. "I wouldn't have given {the ball} to him. I would have tackled him first."

For Craig, Monday was the day to stuff inside a bottle. In the morning, his sixth grandchild, Tyler James Gammill, was born. In the evening his team clinched a title.

"I probably don't show my emotions very much," he said. "But I don't know if I've ever felt any better than this."