Angels closer Ernesto Frieri stood on the mound on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in Anaheim, conflicting thoughts ready to strike.
Charged with maintaining the momentum of the Angels' hot streak as they pursue an American League wild-card spot, Frieri thought he'd just won the game by getting Detroit's Brennan Boesch to ground out.
But Angels third baseman Alberto Callaspo bobbled the ball, and that left two runners on base with a one-run lead. Would this be another collapse like the ones that had plagued Angels pitchers in August?
Pitching coach Mike Butcher appeared to tell Frieri, "You're the best; come on, let's go home!"
"He knows that's what I want to hear," said Frieri, who got the next batter, Jhonny Peralta, to ground another ball to Callaspo, who this time threw to second base for a game-ending fielder's choice, clinching a 3-2 victory and Frieri's 18th save.
By completing a three-game sweep of Detroit, the Angels (77-63) won for the 15th time in 18 games and trail Baltimore by one game for the second AL wild-card spot with 22 games remaining.
"Everyone's doing their jobs, and this is what I expected from a team like this when I came here," Frieri said in reference to his trade from San Diego in May. "I'm 100% sure we're going to make it."
Starting pitcher Zack Greinke shares the mind-set after winning his fourth consecutive start and fifth in six games by striking out seven in seven innings.
Greinke (5-2) has a 1.88 earned-run average during the four wins, fulfilling the hopes the Angels' front office had when they traded three prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers for him on July 27.
"I thought it'd be like this the whole time," Greinke said. "Our pitching staff is so talented."
Angels pitchers have reinvented themselves after struggling through a 15-game stretch in August when they had a 6.51 ERA.
In 15 games since, the Angels' staff has a 2.25 ERA and the team has a six-game winning streak entering a four-game series that with wild-card leader Oakland that starts Monday.
"What our pitching is doing is remarkable, and we need to keep going," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
It helps having the spark of Angels leadoff hitter Mike Trout, who opened the first inning with a home run for the second consecutive game — a blast just right of dead center against Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez (2-5).
Trout's homer was his 27th while batting at the top of the Angels' lineup, breaking the team record accomplished by Tony Phillips in 1995 and Brian Downing in 1982.
The Angels extended the lead to 3-0 in the second when Erick Aybar singled to right and Callaspo slugged his ninth homer of the season, over the right-field wall.
Detroit's Andy Dirks smacked a 3-2 Greinke pitch over the wall in the fourth inning, and the Tigers cut their deficit to 3-2 in the seventh when Boesch hit a run-scoring double to left.
But Greinke (5-2) otherwise displayed astute pitch selection from an arsenal that included a wicked curve that made Detroit's No. 5 hitter Delmon Young look foolish when he tried chasing it and struck out to close the fourth inning.
"I was feeling good after that one," Greinke said. "I actually missed my spot pretty bad."