Our first impression of Brian Sabean was of a man a little too bold and far too sensitive for his own good.

That's because his first move as Giants' general manager was to trade the popular Matt Williams. His second was to recoil in the face of the resultant criticism and proclaim himself to be "not an idiot."

You know what they say about the staying power of a first impression? Well, forget it in Sabean's case. Not the part about being bold. He really is unafraid to do the big deal. But the part about being thin-skinned? That couldn't be farther from the truth.

In the 10 years between the Williams trade and this week, Sabean displayed an impenetrable New England steely resolve. He hasn't opened himself up to an overabundance of criticism, and he hasn't ducked or over-reacted to divergent opinion when it has come his way.

You have to understand that to understand how revelatory last week has been.

See, Sabean finally cracked. On Thursday, questioned about incendiary closer Armando Benitez, Sabean flamed at the hosts of his weekly radio drop-in on KNBR. He invited them to apply for his job, and he promised resolution to the problem within 24 hours.

It barely took 24 minutes. Sabean's next act was to trade Benitez -- but not the bulk of his $4.7 million salary -- to the Florida Marlins. Then he hopped on a conference call with reporters and proclaimed his team "at a crossroads." He defended Benitez, at least to the point of identifying other, equally acute problems with the team. And he took veiled shots at certain position players for failing to "answer the bell" because of sub-catastrophic aches and pains.

Yet even as he was venting, Sabean was holding back. The Benitez thing, for example. Sabean maintained he was forced to trade Benitez because of unrelenting disapproval from the media and fans. The Sabean we've come to know would never let ticket-buyers and keyboard jockeys make his decisions for him.

Benitez had to go because he was failing the team, and because of the manner in which he was failing the team. That the Giants will eat a mountain of salary and have no ready replacement, well, that's called addition by subtraction. Sabean knows that equation as well as anyone.

As for Ray Durham's abdominal muscle, Dave Roberts' elbow, Ryan Klesko's back and Rich Aurilia's neck, those were clearly targets of convenience. They're all Giants this season because Sabean signed (or re-signed) them over the winter. They're the latest in a long line of geriatrics he has brought to San Francisco to facilitate Barry Bonds' desire to win a ring before he retires.

The miracle would have been if these guys had remained healthy. To rail against their infirmity is to rail against the sun rising in the east. Sabean knows this, too, just as he knew it when he acquired Steve Finley, Moises Alou, Ellis Burks, et al.

The pertinent question, then, would be: What really has Sabean's socks in a knot?

Let's start at the end of last season, when both Sabean and Giants managing partner Peter Magowan agreed the team would have to get younger and healthier. The notion must have appealed to Sabean. Imagine having the freedom to sign someone who learned to shave in this century.

Alas, Magowan reversed his field. Bonds was re-signed, and Sabean trudged into the offseason meat market looking for graybeards with another month or two left on the tread -- same as it ever was.

Now let's move to spring training, when Magowan told reporters, "I think a lot of Brian. He's one of the best general managers in the game. (But) we've had two disappointing years and we're all accountable. I'm accountable. We're all accountable for performance, and I think he understands that."

This had to be exciting news for Sabean, knowing he'd be on the hook for the self-defeating mission statement he'd been handed. What better way to enter the last year of your contract?

Then began the season, the revival of the Bonds dog and pony show, the injuries, the uneven play, Benitez's balk-balk-bomb blown save Tuesday night, the radio show, the conference call ...

No wonder the steam went whooshing out Sabean's ears at 75 pounds PSI.

What we're left is a portrait of a man apparently frustrated with his team, by the manner in which he was forced to assemble it, and the prospect of having his job hang in the balance -- to the point that he did something he rarely does. He told us what he really thinks.

That makes twice in 10 years. We've got two-thirds of a season left to see if it becomes a trend.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@cctimes.com.