- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
BALTIMORE -- In a city of row houses, it makes sense that the Orioles' success this year has been built game by game, at-bat by at-bat, pitch by pitch, brick by brick. They have one pitcher with more than 20 starts, a staff with one complete game and a bullpen that has contributed more than 500 innings. At the start of this season, their leadoff hitter was in Pittsburgh, their designated hitter was a pinch-hitter in Philadelphia and their third baseman was a shortstop in Bowie.
They had lost a few games this week, on Sunday to the Boston Red Sox and on Monday and Tuesday to the Toronto Blue Jays, shaving their lead for a wild-card berth enough to fuel anxiety. Deion Sanders was at Camden Yards on Wednesday to visit his old minor league manager, Buck Showalter, and to take some batting practice. When Showalter was asked whether Sanders' appearance might provide a needed distraction to lighten the mood, Showalter disagreed but acknowledged it was a fair question.
Having faced Thome in the past, Showalter felt that the slugger would make needed adjustments pitch to pitch. A pitcher who stayed in a discernable pattern would become more vulnerable, because Thome would change when necessary.
And Villanueva had consistently pitched backward to the Orioles in the first innings Wednesday -- that is, throwing off-speed pitches in ball-strike counts when hitters might usually look for fastballs. Some hitters, who have made a lifetime of feasting on fastballs, struggle to adapt.
But in Thome's second at-bat, leading off the bottom of the fifth, he looked for a changeup and crushed it over the right-field wall for his 612th career homer. Thome explained after the game how Villanueva had been throwing so much off-speed stuff and how they talked about it in the Orioles' dugout, the type of group thought that can work.
Three batters later, Manny Machado -- who wasn't born until 10 months after Thome made his major league debut -- had a 2-1 count, and he jumped another non-fastball, a changeup, for the Orioles' third homer of the night. (Nate McLouth had homered in the first). Before the inning was over, Chris Davis -- who had seen nothing but sliders -- hammered a slider for a three-run homer.
Showalter mentioned after the game, after the Orioles finished with seven homers, how Thome had changed a lot in this victory with his adjustment.
Pitch by pitch. At-bat by at-bat. Brick by brick.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Thome and Machado homered in the same inning for the Orioles on Wednesday. This is the second-largest disparity in age between teammates who homered in the same inning. On June 14, 2005, Julio Franco (46 years, 295 days) and Kelly Johnson (23 years, 112 days) both homered in the fifth inning for the Braves against the Rangers. Thome was 42 years, 30 days old. Machado was 20 years, 82 days.
The Orioles have had only one pitcher with more than 20 starts this season, Wei-Yin Chen, who has 31. No team has ever made the playoffs with only one pitcher making more than 20 starts in a full season. (The Rockies had that in 1995, which started late because of the players' strike.)
• The Chicago White Sox are in a standings free fall, and they lost again to the Cleveland Indians. And while the Detroit Tigers will play the Kansas City Royals on Thursday and then the Minnesota Twins this weekend, the White Sox have to play the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays.
• The Mariners lost and Felix Hernandez's Cy Young chances seem lost, writes Geoff Baker. A month ago, I thought Felix would roll to the award. Now, I think he's behind David Price, Justin Verlander and others.
• Omar Vizquel on what he's going to do once he retires this fall: "I'm going to listen to stories. Not tell them; listen. I'm going to drink them in." He was talking about spending more time with his kids, ages 17 and 5. Vizquel said he'd like to start down the path to becoming a manager or coach in the future.
• Dusty Baker is coming back for the final series of the season.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Sabathia beat the Twins:
A) Sabathia pounded the strike zone, leading to season highs in strikes (89), pitches in the zone (67), called strikes (29) and foul balls (26).
B) Sabathia was able to locate his pitches everywhere against Twins left-handers, throwing 19 pitches up, middle and down to them. Twins lefties did not record a hit against Sabathia, finishing 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts and seven ground outs.
C) Sabathia's slider was excellent, as he recorded 12 outs on the pitch, the most he has gotten with it since Aug. 3 (eight starts). Sabathia recorded seven called strikes with his slider, as many as he got with it in his previous three starts combined.
Most games for a Yankee with 10 K's and one or fewer BB (single season, since 1920)
5: Sabathia, 2012
5: Mike Mussina, 2001
4: David Cone, 1998
3: David Wells, 1998
• Bobby Valentine doesn't have regrets, and he expects to be back as the Red Sox manager.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Information
9: Sliders the Blue Jays threw Chris Davis, who hit a pair of home runs off the pitch, countering his 2012 struggles against the pitch.
15: Number of two-strike pitches outside the strike zone by Paul Maholm that the Marlins swung at.
89: Strikes thrown by CC Sabathia against the Twins, a season high.
1,420: Number of hits for David Wright, which gives him sole possession of the most hits in Mets history.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Houston Astros have picked a manager. The hiring of Bo Porter makes sense: He's young, upbeat and energetic, and the team can grow with him as it develops in the years ahead. Plus, the Astros don't have to pay him much, and he'll be more open to the heavy dose of sabermetric tonic prescribed by the front office than a lot of more established managers would be.
2. It's unclear where Joe Mauer will get most of his playing time next year.
4. The Pirates won't be making major front office changes.
Dings and dents
• The Braves know they will host the wild-card game after their shutout victory Wednesday.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Matt Cain beat the Diamondbacks:
A) Cain was excellent on the rare occasions he had to work out of full counts. Cain threw five pitches in a full count, all of them strikes, and struck out all three batters. Cain has now struck out 38 batters in full counts, sixth most among all starters. His strikeout percentage in full counts, 37.3 percent, is third in baseball behind Francisco Liriano (39.8) and Cole Hamels (41.4).
B) Cain got his outs in different locations depending on the type of hitter he was facing. Cain generated seven fly ball outs to right-handers and seven ground ball outs to left-handers. The only comparable start for Cain this year came on May 27 against the Marlins, where he got 72.7 percent of lefties outs on the ground compared to just 22.2 percent of righties. That game came in the middle of his eight-game win streak.
C) Cain threw more than 50 percent of his pitches to righties on the outer third, giving up one hit and recording seven outs. Right-handed batters are batting just .156 against Cain on pitches on the outer third this season, which leads all NL starters.
• The Indians rallied and changed the standings.
• The Rangers' lead over Oakland is down to three games after a blowout loss.
• The Athletics are taking days off the calendar, edging closer to a wild-card berth, and they came up with a huge win on Wednesday despite setting a record for strikeouts. Thursday is the final day of a challenging stretch in which the Athletics played 17 of 20 games on the road, and after the game against the Rangers, they'll go home to finish their season.
• It's official: Oakland has been doing this with nothing but rookies in its rotation.
• Torii Hunter continues to be extraordinary for the Los Angeles Angels, who are two games behind the Athletics for the last wild-card spot; he had a very clear thought after the Mariners intentionally walked Mike Trout to get to him. Hunter has been crushing the ball.
• Milo Hamilton signed off for the last time.
• A couple of solid Colorado rookies aren't really in the running for Rookie of the Year.
And today will be better than yesterday.