There are six weeks left, but it looks like six months, doesn't it?

The Giants' lead is 7 1/2 games this morning, and there should be a sense of security about that. But there isn't. If your heart belongs to the Giants, you're feeling a bit nervous. The Atlanta Braves are almost here.This might be more of a chase than a race, but baseball always has had an unpredictable and skittish nature. The truth is, no lead is safe - surely not in August and often not even in September.

The '64 Phillies come to mind. And the '69 Cubs. Or how about those '78 Red Sox? Crazy things happen at this time of year, so who knows what will happen to the Giants?

"This," Giants manager Dusty Baker said recently, "is when you tell who the men are."

The Giants have led the National League West since May 11, but they play the Braves six times in the next 11 days - three at Candlestick Park starting Monday night, then three more next week in Atlanta - and the lead could dissolve just like that. Players often insist that games have no more significance in September than in April, yet the level of excitement, anticipation and magnification rises like no other time in the season.

"It's very different," said Orlando Cepeda, the one-time Giants first baseman who played on pennant winners in San Francisco and St. Louis. "Every game is huge. Your concentration has to be there every moment because you know that a mistake can cost your team a game. As soon as it's over, all you want to do is go home so you can start thinking about tomorrow.

"The games might be the same as they are in April, but the meaning is different."

Different because no matter how big the Giants' lead is, it probably isn't big enough to mollify Baker, who has seen a number of division races as a player but not one as a manager. And there is a difference.

"There's a whole lot more responsibility as a manager," said Phil Garner, the Milwaukee Brewers' skipper who played in the postseason with the A's, Pirates and Astros and last season had the Brewers in the American League East race until the final few days. "As a player, you're only thinking about your role. From a manager's standpoint, it's all-encompassing. You can affect a game in a number of ways."

Said Baker: "I enjoyed pressure as a player. I enjoy it as a manager, even though it's my first time."

Because he never has managed in a race before, Baker is relying on lessons learned from his past as a player. The other day he remembered the 1980 NL West race in which the Los Angeles Dodgers trailed the Houston Astros by three games with three to play.

"The first day," he said, recalling pregame warm-ups, "the Astros had their hats off, and they had a good time. (Dodger catcher) Joe Ferguson told me, `We're going to beat these dudes. Just look at them.' We won.

"On the second day, half of them had their hats on. We heard they had the champagne on ice. We beat them again.

"On the third day, they all had their hats on, and no one was smiling. We noticed they were tight, and we knew we were going to beat them to force a playoff."

The Dodgers swept, but the Astros won a one-game playoff. Still, Baker undoubtedly absorbed some valuable lessons - the kind he can employ now on the eve of the biggest series of the Giants' season.

"The things you can control are the mindset of the players and the attitude," he said.