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Even though the Giants have been in the playoff limp for the entire season, it has still been hard to identify them as contenders. The standings might read the Giants are just a couple of games back from a playoff spot, but that just doesn't feel right. It's as if Bud Selig forgot to carry the five, and the whole season will eventually be thrown out after an audit. Not every playoff team has to be the Big Red Machine, but there's usually some sort of magic associated with a postseason run.

There are times and places where anything can be appreciated. Maybe some well-placed shadows could make Sandra Bernhard look like someone you would consciously approach at a party. After a few days of a student film festival, a movie like Con Air might be a welcome contrast. One night I foolishly accepted a cup of tea from a stranger outside of a nightclub in Amsterdam, and the next thing I knew I was dancing shirtless on top of a parked Renault, feeling safe because I knew the earth mother was created in a maelstrom of vibration, and that if vibration and music were the harmony that binds us, then every song was a beautiful manifestation of our covenant with nature at a subatomic level. This allowed me to really appreciate the song "My Humps". And every once in a while, baseball teams that aren't great play as if they were. Even the '85 Giants had a few of those games. Every team does.

So it'd be silly to read too much into the win last night. Just because the Giants looked and played like a playoff team doesn't mean it's time to drop balloons from the ceiling. But that was an outstanding win. The defense was stellar, with the double play in the second inning a finalist for my favorite defensive play of the year. The bullpen maintained an illusion of competence. It was the kind of game that good teams have often. Everything tastes better after a come-from-behind win.

Two broken-bat bloop doubles down the line for the Reds in the bottom of the ninth inning would have erased any perceived magic, and the Giants are still looking up at three teams. It wasn't exactly a landmark victory. After a season of wondering how the Giants were still hanging around, though, it was nice for them to act like an elite team. If the offense performs up to expectations and the bullpen can just be average, they can certainly be a good team. I'll take good. In the National League of 2006, good is the new elite.

The preseason optimism started to seem a little embarrassing around the All-Star break. When the Giants went from mediocre to bad after the break it wasn't just embarrassing, it was impossible to remember how there was any optimism at all. Now that the team is winning, the fog of amnesia is lifting. The initial optimism was predicated on the starting pitching being a strength, and Bonds and Alou hitting well in the same lineup. It still might turn out that way and it might not, but last night we could at least pretend.