Baseball is a numbers game, and as the Yankees' negative numbers pile higher and higher, they become that much more impossible to ignore. Manager Joe Girardi was sufficiently concerned about their mind-boggling slump with runners in scoring position to drop Mark Teixeira, a slugger making an average of $22.5 million per year, to the No. 7 spot in the batting order when he returned to the starting lineup Monday night at Yankee Stadium after three games of rest for a bronchial problem.
The change allowed leftfielder Raul Ibañez, who has been the most effective run producer of late, to remain in the five hole.
Girardi's move turned out to be a futile gesture as the Yankees went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, including an 0-for-3 effort by Ibañez, in a 6-0 loss to Kansas City.
That represented the Yankees' most hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position since they went 0-for-14 against Minnesota on July 6, 1990. It also extended the Yankees' RISP slump to epic proportions at 6-for-72, and their seventh loss in the past nine games dropped their record to an even .500 and into a tie with Boston for last in the AL East.
Royals starter Felipe Paulino (2-1), who pitched 62/3 innings, allowing six hits and striking out eight, had something to do with it. "Paulino throws hard, and he mixed it up," Derek Jeter said. After a couple seconds of reflection, he smiled and said, "It seems like I've been saying the same thing about every pitcher we face."
Jeter focused on the positive, noting how many times the Yankees hit the ball hard. "You hope no one's there to catch it," Jeter said, "but at times, it looks like there's 20 people out there playing defense."
At a certain point, the futility becomes a trend that works on the minds of even the best hitters. How do they react?
"You can look at it as a good at-bat, 'I just hit a ball hard and they caught it,' " Jeter said. "Or you can take the 'Here we go again' approach. I've always taken the first one."
Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda (3-6) gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to Mike Moustakas, and the Royals pushed their lead to 3-0 on Eric Hosmer's double in the third. In the bottom of the third, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs. But Paulino struck out Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, and Ibañez hammered a drive to left that was caught at the wall by Alex Gordon.
"I thought it was a double," Ibañez said. "He ran it down . . . It can get to you if you let it, but the key is to focus on the process. I hit it hard."
And so it went. Rodriguez led off the sixth with a double and reached third when he tagged up on Ibañez's fly to left. He was stranded when Nick Swisher and Teixeira struck out. The Royals' Jeff Francoeur put the game out of reach with a two-run homer off reliever Freddy Garcia in the seventh.
"We're getting opportunities," Rodriguez said. "Now, we have to finish, become better closers."
Maybe it's just the cyclical nature of baseball. That's what the Yankees keep telling themselves. Looking at this lineup's numerical history, Swisher said: "We're all capable of doing the job. The back of everybody's baseball card looks pretty good. We've just got to keep pushing."