The news hit the Giants and their fans like a ton of bricks Wednesday: Outfielder Melky Cabrera suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone. That takes him through the rest of the regular season and either five games into the postseason or next year.
It became the latest lesson from baseball that when you are seeing something on the field that is almost too good to be true, it probably is.
Cabrera was in the midst of his best season in the big leagues, hitting .346 and being mentioned in the NL MVP discussion.
He had instantly become a fan favorite in San Francisco and developed a cult following of Melk-Men.
But now every hit, every run, every laserlike throw he unleashed from the outfield this season has to be called into question.
And it’s time to slap an “expired” label on the Melk-Men and stick them back on the shelf.
Cabrera, the highest-profile Giant to be linked to performance-enhancing drugs since Barry Bonds — who, coincidentally, patrolled the same left field at AT&T Park that Cabrera did — will forever be labeled a cheater.
His suspension only leads to more questions.
Was Cabrera using PEDs during his breakout season for the Kansas City Royals in 2011 but only caught now? Is the real Cabrera the 2011-12 version who hits over .300, or the version who hit .260 from 2008-10?
The immediate impact to the Giants is devastating. Cabrera’s knack for getting on base and delivering clutch hits can’t be replaced.
And as for that formidable foursome of Cabrera, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence? That lineup was in full display for all of ... drumroll please ... one game.
The loss on the field is joined by the impact in the clubhouse, where — despite any cliche quotes that come from teammates — morale has to be waning.
The Giants’ season isn’t over, though. Their pitching is still superior to that of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and they have enough offense to make some noise, but it will be a grind. And if they do squeak into the playoffs, they’ll be dumped in the first round.
To Cabrera’s credit, he copped to his crime. He didn’t concoct a tale of tainted meat, a spiked drink, an immaculate injection or any other old wives’ tale that other athletes have spouted over the years.
“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” Cabrera said in a statement.
Cabrera had been one of the best stories in all of baseball.
But now, glowing words that have been used to describe Cabrera — All-Star, MVP, slugger — will be replaced by cheater, fraud and tainted. And they should be.
His admission of guilt is admirable, but it doesn’t let him off the hook.
Cabrera cheated. He went above and beyond to try and gain an edge.
He’ll serve his punishment play out his days with an asterisk by his name.
As for the Giants of 2012, all they are left with are dwindling playoff chances and a case of spoiled Melk.
Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dkruse16.