It would hit Dusty Baker when he woke up Thursday morning, then not again. Fleeting, he would say. Sort of like the starting stint by the Anaheim Angels' Jarrod Washburn in Game 5 of the World Series Thursday night.

The San Francisco Giants built a 6-0 lead against Washburn after two innings and went on to a 16-4 victory.

The Giants enter the weekend needing one more victory to provide Baker with the champagne for a possible farewell party.

Is Baker leaving? Is his 10-year tenure at the Giants' helm about to end? Is the crazy managerial merry-go-round soon to stop at his door?

For now, there might be more clarity in a San Francisco fog bank.

For now, the thought was there when he got up Thursday morning that Game 5 might be his last as the Giants' manager in Pacific Bell Park.

"After that, I just forgot about it," Baker said. "This is no time to get melancholy right now. This is a time for us to push to the finish line."

As the Giants draw closer, as one managerial option after another closes for Baker (would he really have found that fractious New York Mets' situation appealing?), as vacancies with the Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners (who may be unwilling to meet his price) seem the only possible alternatives to returning to the Giants and a potentially strained relationship with managing general partner Peter Magowan, it has become harder for Baker and club officials to avoid the issue.

Before Game 5, General Manager Brian Sabean, expressing annoyance at times, said what "nobody has been able to comprehend" is that the only reason Baker's status hasn't been resolved is because his own hasn't.

"Nobody's ever said that we didn't want Dusty Baker to manage this ballclub, including Peter Magowan," Sabean said. "It's just that in sports, especially baseball, why would you sign a manager long-term if you didn't know who he's going to be working with? It's just not done. So until I'm resolved, either being here or going off in the sunset, the manager's situation" won't be.

Having guided a contending team amid comparatively restrictive budget parameters, the respected Sabean will receive a new contract as soon as the Giants are done playing, after which, Magowan reiterated Thursday, Baker's situation will be resolved within seven to 10 days.

If it isn't clear how, it seems certain he will be offered a chance to return, providing he does not ask for the house, a person familiar with the situation said.

Does he want to return? Does he think 10 years may be enough, as he suggested in a pre-Series interview? Does he think that his relationship with Magowan, exacerbated in the spring when Baker felt the owner created "undue pressure" by saying this was a World Series-caliber team, a team without holes, is beyond repair? Would he really consider sacrificing his Bay Area popularity, friendships and fishing holes for the Cubs?

Said Sabean, referring to the Magowan and Baker portrayal: "It aggravates me that it's made so personal. . . .

"Peter Magowan doesn't rail on Dusty Baker when I'm talking to Peter Magowan, and Dusty Baker doesn't rail on Peter Magowan when I talk to Dusty Baker."

Maybe not, but there are people who believe Baker will not return unless issues with Magowan are talked out, and that Sabean is putting a good face on it when he suggests it all stems from a "classic example of bad timing."

"Peter was absolutely, positively right to say what he said in spring training," Sabean said. "He's the owner of the team and he was excited about spending the money. As it turned out, the timing wasn't right because of what Dusty was going through" in his recovery from prostate cancer surgery.

"I think that's the only reason that Dusty took it personally," Sabean said. "But Dusty knows if you're the second-highest paid manager and you spend $75 million [on payroll] and we've been close other times, expectation isn't bad. It [was] just poor timing."

So be it, but isn't timing everything?

Doesn't Baker know that with eight players in his starting lineup over age 30, with the possibility that Jeff Kent, who homered twice in Game 5 and is the only second baseman to drive in 100 or more runs for six consecutive seasons, eligible for free agency, that this could be, as Sabean acknowledged, a "last chance" for this nucleus and that there may be a younger and more promising core in Chicago or elsewhere? Isn't it possible that Baker may be ready for that new challenge?

For now, there are far more questions than answers. Baker is still employed by the Giants, still seeking that one more win, after which Sabean seemed to suggest he will do some arm-twisting, reminding Baker of the "quality of life and culture" he may find hard to duplicate and which he has helped create with the Giants.

"Has this been Dusty's best year?" Sabean asked rhetorically. "He does a great job every year with a changing roster. He never complains, never makes my job harder. His teams play hard and are almost always in a position to win. I don't know what more you can ask."

Jim Fregosi, a Bay Area native who was a former assistant to Sabean, is the speculated successor if Baker leaves, but from Barry Bonds to the 25th player, virtually every Giant has spoken up during the postseason, citing Baker's popularity, his importance to the fabric of the team, the hope he will be back.

There was more of that in the clubhouse after the Game 5 win, but Baker reiterated that he would not lapse into melancholy, that the victory and the Series lead accompanying it simply represented a great way to end the Pacific Bell phase of their 2002 schedule.

Where he will be in 2003 can wait. He has one more stop in Anaheim, where the champagne will be on ice.

Dusty Baker is in 10th, and most successful, season coaching the Giants. It also could be his last, even if his team wins World Series.Giants' Barry Bonds, left, chats with Manager Dusty Baker, who has team a win away from winning World Series title.