Commentary

Yankees just awful in loss to Royals

In a lifeless loss at the Stadium, the Bombers are getting worse by the game

Updated: May 22, 2012, 2:42 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- This was the kind of night when, in the old Yankee Stadium, George Steinbrenner might have commandeered the PA system to apologize to the fans and maybe offer them a rain check to a future game.

But after the way the Yankees played Monday night in a lifeless and perfectly awful 6-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals, it's hard to imagine any of the couple of thousand who braved the chilly, rainy night taking him up on the offer.

I mean, who would want to see this again?

Realizing this was only the 265th regular-season game played here, it is not unreasonable to say this might have been the worst performance yet by the home team in the history of Yankee Stadium 3.0.

Hal Steinbrenner, the "Baby Boss," isn't much for speaking, publicly or privately. But you know this one had to cut deep, because somewhere in his body lurks the DNA of his old man.

In its brief existence, Steinbrenner's state-of-the-art money pit has showcased the sublime -- the 2009 World Series championship team -- and now, the ridiculous, with the nucleus of that team now an aging, punchless collection of players who might have reached their expiration dates long before their contracts did.

Manager Joe Girardi, as usual, tried Monday night to find the positives ("I think our at-bats are pretty good; we're just coming up empty"), as did Derek Jeter ("I think we hit a lot of balls hard"). But even Jeter, the eternal optimist, had to catch himself in the middle of praising Felipe Paulino, who now has beaten the Yankees twice in 16 days and shut them out over 12 2/3 innings.

"He's been throwing well for them. He throws hard. He mixes it up," Jeter said.

Then he added, "It seems like I've been saying the same thing about every pitcher we've seen the past couple of weeks."

The true meaning of that was left unsaid: When you're tipping your hat to the pitcher every night, maybe it's not the pitcher.

Maybe it's the hitters.

In the case of the Yankees, there's no maybe about it.

Yes, they did hit some balls hard Monday night, particularly a shot by Raul Ibanez that looked like it might have become a game-changing grand slam homer when it left his bat with two out in the third.

But when Alex Gordon ran it down at the wall in left-center, it became not only just another out, but one more notch on the Yankees' growing record of futility with runners in scoring position. In this one, the final tally would be 0-for-13.

"We're doing certain things right," Alex Rodriguez said. "We're getting those opportunities; now we just have to finish and become better closers. Opportunities are good, though."

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesThe Yankees' offense has gone silent of late, not being able to produce offense, especially with runners in scoring position.

But missed opportunities are bad, and those are the only types the Yankees had Monday night. In the third inning, they loaded the bases with none out, only to see Robinson Cano strike out looking and A-Rod strike out swinging at a 2-2 pitch down around his ankles before Ibanez's fly out killed that opportunity.

In the fourth, they got a runner to third with two out, but Russell Martin tapped out to second. In the sixth, A-Rod led off with a double, went to third recklessly (and perhaps foolishly) on a fly out -- and then watched Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, dropped to seventh in the order, strike out to kill that threat.

By the time Teixeira led off the ninth with a double down the third-base line, the Royals were leading 6-0, and it really didn't matter what his teammates did. But they did what they have been doing -- Andruw Jones, Martin and Jeter went down without incident -- and the Yankees left the field to a chorus of boos that seemed a lot louder than the number of people left to make them should have been capable of.

But that was the kind of game it was: uncomfortable, unexciting and ultimately more than unsatisfying.

Try frustrating, stupefying, even infuriating.

Paulino, a pitcher whose career record is now 12-32, has won two of those games against the Yankees this month. Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda, who has been a disappointment so far, was no better on this night, although he did tough it out into the sixth inning and left with his team down just 3-0, which should have been close enough to keep the Yankees in the game.

Not these Yankees, though. These days, a three-run deficit might as well be 300.

"It's way early in the season. We have a lot more games to be played,'' Swisher said. "This team is a 'never give up' type of team, so regardless of where we are right now, we're going to keep fighting. I can promise you that."

But where they are right now is in the American League East cellar, co-dwellers with the Boston Red Sox, who, having won nine of their past 11, appear to be getting better.

The Yankees look as if they are getting worse.

They are locked into a lineup that is not producing, yet for which they have no real replacements. Girardi moved Teixeira down to "get him going.'' Maybe moving A-Rod down is next.

But after awhile, just moving unproductive players is not enough. There must be productive players to take their place. And right now, no one in a Yankees uniform is very productive. Even Jeter, who was among the league leaders in hitting for all of April and the beginning of May, has cooled off a bit. His average is down to .343, the lowest it's been since the first week of the season, after having gone 7-for-his-past 30 (.233).

On the positive side, I have seen Yankees teams struggle much more than this one and still make the playoffs -- after 42 games, the 2007 team was 19-23 and 10 1/2 games out of first place, and rallied to take the wild card -- and it might be hard to remember, but last year's team was only two games better at this point in 2011, and several of the Yankees are hitting as well, or better, than they were then.

But what the 2007 and 2011 teams had in common was that both went out in the first round of the playoffs, and right now this team is no better than either of them.

Swisher is right; there is still a lot of baseball to played, and if the front-office history of this team holds true, a lot of player moves yet to be made.

The team might go down without a fight, the way it did Monday night, but it's doubtful ownership or the front office will.

In another era, "The Boss" might have grabbed the microphone and apologized for this one, and then stormed into the office to fire someone.

These days, you've got to hope the Baby Boss, in his own quiet way, is cooking up something similar.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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