Albert Pujols, who suffered a season-ending left heel injury in late July, felt good enough in early September to begin jogging with the intention of returning if the Angels made a run at the playoffs.
The first baseman was shut down a week ago as the Angels neared elimination, but the fact he was able to flirt with a return fueled his confidence that he'll have a normal off-season workout regimen and return 100% in 2014.
"I can't read the future," said Pujols, who hobbled his way through a season in which he hit .258 with 17 home runs and 64 runs batted in before suffering a partial tear of his plantar fascia. "But as of now, I'm feeling pretty good about how everything is going."
Pujols, who survived a brutal April of 2012 to hit .285 with 30 home runs, 105 RBIs and 50 doubles in his debut season with the Angels, will begin weight training and conditioning in November. He'll start hitting in January.
He will not need surgery on his foot, the tear essentially replicating what doctors would do in a procedure.
"We're all very confident he's gonna be at a much higher level of health than we saw this year and even for parts of last year," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's going to add up to an Albert like we saw after the first month of 2012. The power, the swing was there. Hopefully, he'll be able to maintain for a whole season."
The Angels were 48-53 and 11 games out in the American League West on July 26, the night Pujols tore his plantar fascia. They lost 18 of their next 25 games to fall to 55-71 and 18-1/2 games back Aug. 21 before rebounding with a 21-8 run before Monday night's game against Oakland.
"If they're playing better without me, I should retire, right?" joked Pujols, who is in the second year of a 10-year, $240-million contract. "They're playing great, with the same energy. You could easily get down, but they're going out there every night and winning games, winning series.
"That's huge. It shows the character of the guys we have here. Even though we're out of the race, they respect the fans, the game, the organization. I think everyone should be proud."