David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After so many years of being the measuring stick for so many teams, the Yankees found themselves on the opposite end Friday night at Kauffman Stadium, home of the defending American League champs.
And the Royals whacked them upside the head with it.
No beanballs. No brawls. No ejections. The Royals had their share of those shenanigans last month. The Yankees sent out their de facto ace, Michael Pineda, and wound up being humiliated by the score of 12-1. It felt as if they lost by three touchdowns.
"It's tough, it was ugly," Joe Girardi said. "But it's only one game."
Actually, Joe, it's four -- as in consecutive losses, dating to Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. We're now in the midst of the Yankees' longest skid of the season.
We knew going in this would be a taxing trip, from the Rays to the Royals to the Nationals next week, and the Yankees looked a bit winded Friday night.
A flat pitching performance will do that, and Pineda ultimately went belly-up in his bid to be the stopper. Less than a week ago, he struck out 16 and was declared a rival to Matt Harvey for NYC's top gun. Pineda was that good Sunday in shutting down the Orioles, but his slider vanished Friday night and the Royals eventually swarmed him for 10 hits and five runs in 51/3 innings.
If nothing else, we probably can shelve the Pineda-Harvey discussion for a little while. The Yankees badly needed him to contain KC, and on this particular night, he couldn't do it for long enough. Mike Moustakas ripped Pineda for a single, double and triple in his first three at-bats.
"Sometimes it happens," Pineda said. "Not my day."
The Royals deserve credit, too. They're tied with the Astros for the AL's best record (23-13). Last October, the Royals came within 90 feet of extending Game 7 and potentially winning the World Series.
That's not to slight the Yankees, who are 21-16 and still atop the AL East. But they didn't make the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, and many believe there's plenty left to prove. Still, Girardi knows what it's like to be the hunted team, and he made some interesting comments before the game when asked about the Royals' beanball-related scuffles with the White Sox and A's last month.
"I think teams want to see how they measure up against you," Girardi said. "As far as them being tested early, I'm not so sure that all of it was their fault. There's some things that I would have done where I would have said, 'We need to protect our guys here.' So they just happened to be in the middle of those a couple times. I think they've handled it pretty well so far."
That was some rare insight from Girardi, who suggested using his own Code Red in a similar situation -- something managers don't admit very often, if ever. The Yankees have had their own history of being thrown at, and we're not talking about a pitcher trying to establish the inside corner. There's a psychological edge to be gained, and the Royals believe other clubs, such as the White Sox and A's, have tried to strip away their championship strut.
"Teams were coming in and trying to intimidate us," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "And they found out that wasn't going to happen. But since all that has died down, I think that teams have looked at us and said, 'OK, we can't bully these guys. They're not going to be bullied.' So it's kind of slowed down a little bit."
Enter the Yankees, who are less a Bronx bully these days than a retooled team attempting to squeeze some more magic from aging stars and a few strategically placed youngsters. They limped into Kansas City after losing three straight to the surprising Rays and will have Chris Capuano make his 2015 rotation debut tomorrow.
During one stretch at the Trop, the Yankees went 98 consecutive at-bats without an extra-base hit, sandwiched between Mark Teixeira's homer Monday and Alex Rodriguez's ninth-inning shot in Thursday's finale.
On Friday night, they had a total of five hits and lost to former Met Chris Young. This was a Royals flush.