Jim Thome's stake in the playoff chase

Updated: September 27, 2012, 3:26 PM ET
By Buster Olney

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.

The Orioles needed a little jump-start, especially after falling behind 2-1 in the first 4½ innings against Carlos Villanueva, and it was Jim Thome who seemed to provide it.