Yankees' lead cut to two games after 6-1 loss to Orioles

Hiroki Kuroda looks on during the second inning

Hiroki Kuroda looks on during the second inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. (Aug. 31, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

As their AL East lead shriveled in the last six weeks, the Yankees maintained equanimity. No nervousness, no sweating; nothing to see here, folks.

"There's no sense of panic," Joe Girardi said Friday afternoon. "It's business as usual."

Girardi spoke those words with his team holding a three-game lead. Less than six hours later? It was down to two after the Yankees slumbered through a 6-1 loss to the closing-fast Orioles in front of 43,352 mostly quiet fans at the Stadium.

Hiroki Kuroda (12-10) allowed three runs in the second inning and the Yankees (75-56) -- who led the division by 10 games July 18 -- had only five hits and struck out 12 times in their seventh loss in 10 games. The two-game lead is their smallest since they were up by 1½ on June 2.

"Right now with where we are, if you would have told me at the end of spring training getting ready to start the season we'd be two games up at the start of September, I would have signed up for that," said Nick Swisher, who struck out four times.

But what about having a 10- game lead cut to two? "We have a lot of veteran guys in here, guys who have been through this stuff,'' Swisher said, "and we look to them for guidance. These guys have been through all of it."

Kuroda pitched well after the second inning and wound up allowing four runs in 81/3 innings. But Miguel Gonzalez (6-3) shut out the Yankees for seven innings, allowing four hits and a walk and striking out a career-best nine in his 10th major-league start. Said Eric Chavez, "We need to clean up what we're doing in here and take care of what's going on with our play. We're just not winning, but tonight, that guy was just good. He was dominant."

After the Orioles went ahead 6-0 with two runs off Derek Lowe in the top of the ninth, the Yankees finally scored on Curtis Granderson's 34th homer, a one-out shot off lefty Brian Matusz.

Mark Reynolds drove in three runs with a pair of home runs and J.J. Hardy also homered as the Orioles (73-58) won for the 18th time in 25 games.

"We've almost made it to September. What do we have, a couple of hours?'' Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I think we all know, it's a given, what the Yankees are about and what they can do. We have to continue to stay focused in what we have to do and stay in the moment, which our guys have done such a great job with all year.''

Kuroda entered the game averaging 4.01 runs per game of support, the fourth-lowest in the AL. He gladly would have taken that, though he wasn't as sharp as he's been at times. He allowed eight hits, including a tremendous two-run homer by Reynolds and a solo shot by Hardy.

Adam Jones singled to lead off the second, went to third on Matt Wieters' single and scored on Chris Davis' sacrifice fly to medium left. Reynolds then launched a 2-and-0 pitch into the second deck in left to make it 3-0. Kuroda then retired 12 straight before Hardy hit his 18th homer, a sixth-inning drive into the seats in left for a 4-0 lead.

With runners at first and third and one out in the sixth, Swisher struck out for the third time and Robinson Cano popped out, prompting some of the loudest boos of the night.

The Yankees are 18-22 since July 18. At what point will Girardi say his team needs to play better? "I probably said that about two weeks ago,'' he said. "When we got swept in Chicago, I said we need to play better. You lose two out of three to Toronto and I say you need to play better. As I've said, there are going to be low points and there are going to be high points during the season, and you have find a way to get out of this little rut that we're in."

Notes & quotes: Mark Teixeira, out since Monday with a left calf strain, does not yet have a timetable to return. "He feels better, I can tell you that," Girardi said. "We don't have him doing anything but treatment today." Girardi said a return early next week is unlikely . . . David Phelps, originally scheduled to start Sunday, will start Saturday in place of Freddy Garcia. Phil Hughes will start Sunday and Garcia will face the Rays on Tuesday . . . Ivan Nova (rotator cuff inflammation) played long toss Friday, the first time he's done so since going on the DL Aug. 23. "He's progressing," Girardi said.

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