DENVER -- As difficult as it may be to believe, the New York Yankees lost a game at Coors Field in which their starting pitcher allowed just two runs.
Almost as equally difficult to believe is that in a ballpark that is still conducive to the home run and high-scoring games remain the rule, not the exception, Tuesday's game between the Yankees and the Colorado Rockies was decided by a single pitch, a 3-2 fastball from Hiroki Kuroda in the sixth inning that drifted over the plate to Carlos Gonzalez, who airmailed it into the Rockies' bullpen for what proved to be the game-winning hit.
But the real story of Tuesday's game was not Kuroda, who has been the Yankees' best starting pitcher by far over the first 30 games of the season, or one bad pitch.
It was that the Yankees' lineup could not manage to score one run, let alone the three needed for victory, in a park known as a launching pad and against a pitcher (Jorge De La Rosa) making just his fourth start since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Kuroda -- who had not lost since the second game of the season on April 3, and whose ERA (2.30) is a full run lower than the next best Yankees starter (CC Sabathia) -- paid not only for his mistake but for the feebleness of the Yankees' lineup, which resembled something you might see in a split-squad game in spring training.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave Brett Gardner the night off, and with Kevin Youkilis having joined Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira on the DL, and Eduardo Nunez's rib cage still too sore for him to play, the Yankees essentially were starting backups in place of backups: Jayson Nix for Nunez, Chris Nelson for Youkilis, Ben Francisco for Gardner.
And against a lefty with a good changeup like De La Rosa's, that lineup was beaten nearly before the game began. The Yankees managed just four singles all game -- Nix had two of them -- and a total of six baserunners with walks to Francisco and Gardner, who hit for Francisco in the seventh. The Yankees didn't help themselves by going 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, but to be fair, two of the Yankees' best opportunities of the game -- Nix reached third base in the first inning and Chris Stewart made it that far in the fifth -- came with two outs and no margin for error.
"Some nights you're just not going to hit," Girardi said, and that is certainly true.
"I think people always remember what it used to be like here," Girardi said. "But it seems like you see some closer games now.”
Closer, maybe, but not much lower scoring. Even though they now cook the baseballs in a humidor at Coors Field to try to counteract the effect of the thin mile-high air, a total of 153 runs had been scored in the first 15 games at Coors, or an average of about 10 per game.
So while the Yankees have played remarkably well so far this season despite all their injuries -- the loss dropped them to 18-13 -- and their record against left-handed starters is a surprising 8-4, it is clear that Girardi's right-handed hitting batting order is not exactly Murderer's Row.
Francisco is still mired in a slump, with his .129 batting average. Vernon Wells has cooled somewhat from his excellent start and his average is now down to .270. Even with his two hits Tuesday, Nix is batting .241. And teams have absolutely no incentive to pitch to Robinson Cano, the only consistently dangerous bat in their lineup. Incredibly, Stewart's .261 batting average was the fourth-highest in the Yankees' batting order.
"We wasted whatever opportunities that we had," Wells said. "It’s hard to win games when you get four hits and don’t put any runs up on the board. Kuroda threw well. We just couldn’t do anything to support him."