Preakness and Orioles….Not a Great Weekend For Either

May 18, 2009 | Tom Clayton

On Saturday Rachel Alexandra became the first Philly to win the Preakness Stakes since 1924.  This was a great story and made the 2009 Preakness memorable for two reasons, unfortunately the second wasn’t so great.  With Pimlico ending its BYOB policy in the infield, attendance drop from 112,222 last year to 77,850 this year.  A drop off of 34,372 paying customers is a sobering number for a horse racing industry that is already on life support in the state of Maryland.   Such a massive drop off is especially scary for an industry that relies so heavily on one day to sustain itself for the remainder of the year.  I understand that the infield had more of family feel this year and that may be a good thing three or four years down the road but I wonder if the industry can maintain itself in Maryland that long. 


The Orioles lost three of four in Kansas City and have fallen to six games under .500 on the season. 


On Friday night the Orioles were shutdown by AL Cy Young frontrunner Zack Grienke.  Grienke struck out six and allowed one earned run in seven innings.  On the upside the Orioles did hurt Grienke’s league leading ERA pushing it from 0.51 to 0.60, yes that is a hint of sarcasm.  From what I saw Friday Grienke is the real deal, he has a ridiculous fastball that regularly hit the high nineties.  No only could he ratchet his heater up to 97 but he has pinpoint control that allows him to paint the black of the plate at will.  Perhaps the most impressive part of Grienke’s game is his ability to change speeds; he would throw a 97 mile an hour fastball and then follow that with a 76 mile an hour curve ball on the next pitch.  He also kept hitters off balance by never throwing the same pitch with the same velocity two pitches in a row.


As if the pitching hasn’t been bad enough with his recent demotion to the bullpen we got to see Mark Hendrickson and Adam Eaton pitch in the same game Friday.  This was like being forced to watch a double feature of Battlefield Earth and Gigli back to back.  With Eaton giving up seven earned in five innings Friday to raise his ERA this season to 7.93; he better hope that the Orioles don’t decide to bring up Chris Tillman from Norfolk because  would be out of Baltimore faster than you can say Victor Zambrano.


Rich Hill looked good in his Orioles debut allowing two earned runs over 5.2 innings on Saturday.  Hill’s yakker looked great, it had good break and he used it well to strikeout six Royals.  Another exciting revelation was the fact that Hill only walked two hitters and did a good job of getting ahead of hitters early in the count.  The major criticism of Hill coming from Chicago was that he had lost his control and was allowing way too many free passes to first base.  I am going to manage my optimism with Hill until I see a few more starts in an Orioles uniform.  Hill has the natural ability to be a fine fourth or fifth starter in a good rotation and is young enough at 29 to be a quality second lefty when Brian Matusz joins the rotation.


After watching Koji pitch this afternoon I have come to the conclusion that has the stamina to be effective through five innings.  It seems that for the first five innings he is borderline dominant, controlling hitter with his sick splitter.  Once he comes out for the sixth inning his pitches don’t seem to have the same life they had earlier in the game an opposing hitters begin driving his pitches hard.  This trend scares me mainly because in his last few years in Japan Koji was used a majority of the time as a closer.  I was critical of Trembley earlier in the season for pulling Koji after 90-96 pitches but clearly he knew exactly what he as doing.


On the positive side it was nice to see Nolan Reimold play in all four games since being called up.  Reimold may struggle a little with major league pitching early but the Orioles need to stick with him like they did with Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.  Reimold got his first major league hit Thursday night and has an RBI in each of his last two games.  Watching Reimold develop in left field will be a fun ride; he is a player with real major league power.  If given the opportunity to develop properly Reimold has 30 home run potential and the ability to be the final piece in the most diverse, talented young outfield in baseball.


Overall it wasn’t a very successful weekend financially for horse racing and on the field for the Orioles.  I hope that both can recover as quickly as possible because they are two of the staples of Maryland’s sports history and both have fallen on dangerously hard times over the past decade.