MIAMI (AP) – Joe Girardi took a seat at the end of the bench three hours before Tuesday’s game, then lamented that an overhead fan cooling the dugout was pointed away from him.

Such is life on the hot seat.

Because of a rift with Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, Girardi’s tenure as manager is expected to end after only one year.

He’s under contract through 2008, but a change is likely even though the young Marlins exceeded expectations by contending for a playoff berth before fading last week.

Girardi has said he won’t resign, and before the start of a six-game homestand to end the regular season, he lobbied more strongly than ever to stay.

“I came here to do a job,” he said. “I love what these kids have accomplished, and I’d like to see it through.”

Loria was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment. He has said he’ll assess the managerial situation after the season, and he has declined to endorse the job Girardi has done.

With the lowest payroll in the major leagues, the Marlins were widely projected to lose more than 100 games. They started 11-31, then became the first club in major league history to climb above .500 after being 20 games under.

A 3-9 skid over the past two weeks ended the Marlins’ playoff hopes, but they could still end at .500 with a 5-1 finish.

“These kids have fought as hard as anyone could fight,” said Girardi, who has played 22 rookies. “No one thought we would be in this position with six days to go.”

Girardi, who won three World Series rings as a catcher for the New York Yankees, said he has never been prouder to be part of a team than this season. In his first year as a manager, Girardi is considered a strong candidate for NL manager of the year.

“With what Joe has done with these young guys, he definitely has to be in the running for it,” veteran Florida infielder Wes Helms said.

While Girardi’s relationship with Loria and general manager Larry Beinfest is strained, he remains popular with his players.

“This has been one of the most fun years I’ve ever had at the major league level,” said reliever Matt Herges, at 36 the Marlins’ oldest player. “The coaching staff has been incredible – in a good way. I’ll look back on this year fondly for the rest of my life.”

Girardi, an Illinois native, spent seven years as a catcher for the Chicago Cubs and owned a home there before joining the Marlins. He’s considered a potential successor to Cubs manager Dusty Baker, whose job is in jeopardy.

But Girardi said his commitment remains to Miami.

“People want to speculate about, “Oh, he wants to go to Chicago,”‘ Girardi said. “I sold my house in Chicago. No man in his right mind would sell a house in Chicago for eight months. I sold my house, I uprooted my family, I moved my kids here.”

When asked if he plans to start looking for work when the season ends Sunday, Girardi said no.

“There’s no reason to look,” he said. “I have a three-year deal. If I’m not here, it’s not my choice.”

AP-ES-09-26-06 1842EDT

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