1st-inning fade costs Yanks and CC

It really came down to the first inning. The Yankees had a potential big inning going against Royals righthander James Shields, a pitcher they repeatedly roughed up over the years in his time with the Rays.

A bunt single by Brett Gardner followed by single by Ichiro Suzuki and Robinson Cano gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead before an out was made. After Travis Hafner struck out for the first of three times in the game, Zoilo Almonte singled to right field to load the bases. Third base coach Rob Thompson was smart to hold up Ichiro at third because right fielder David Lough got to the ball quickly.

With two outs, it is a different story for the third base coach. It is hard to get successive, two-out hits. But with one out, the assumption is that someone down the line can keep the rally going. It did not happen as Lyle Overbay struck out and Eduardo Nunez flied out to center.

“You think you’re going to get more than one run in that situation,” manager Joe Girardi said.

That one run was all CC Sabathia had to work with all game. He held the lead through the fifth working on a one-hit shutout. Then the Royals stung him with something the Yankees have sorely lacked recently – extra-base hits. Leadoff home runs by Lough in the sixth and Billy Butler in the seventh and back-to-back, one-out doubles by Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer in the eighth turned the game around in Kansas City’s favor, 3-1. Sabathia’s 37th career complete game was a loss, the ninth such result of his career and the first since July 21, 2011 at Tampa Bay.

“It doesn’t matter how many runs you give up; a loss is a loss,” Sabathia said. “It’s frustrating. We’ve lost a lot of guys [to injury], but the guys in here have done a great job to keep us in this thing until the others come back.”

Those extra-base hits for the Royals really stuck out on a night when the Yankees hit nothing but singles again, six of them in all with four coming in the first inning. The Yanks scored one run for the third consecutive game, and 34 of their past 37 hits have been singles.

They had let Shields off the hook, and he got into a groove after that. Double plays came to his aid in the second and third innings before he retired the Yankees in order through the seventh as he registered 14 consecutive outs. Shields improved his career record against the Yankees to 8-15 with a 4.34 ERA and 3-9 with a 4.98 ERA in 14 starts at Yankee Stadium. He had not won in the Bronx since May 20, 2010.

Girardi continued to express support for a group that has been offensively challenged for quite some time.

“I never forget how hard it is to play this game,” he said. “There is no lack of effort. I said from the beginning of the season that we are going to have to win close games. Asking about trading for players is asking me to put down the guys in that room. I will never do that. We have to play the brand of ball we are capable of playing. I feel like these guys can get the job done. I’ll always believe in them.”

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