Runs still tough to come by

A miserable fourth inning was the ugly centerpiece of the Yankees’ 5-2 loss to Oakland as they have now lost their second straight series at home to an American League West club. The inning ended somewhat triumphantly on a dart of a throw to the plate by left fielder Aaron Hicks, but baseballs seemed to evade Yankees gloves throughout the frame.

Nathan Eovaldi, breezing along on a one-hit shutout to that point, got off to a messy start of the inning yielding back-to-back doubles to Billy Burns and Craig Coghlan that took away the 1-0 lead Didi Gregorius had provided in the second with his second home run of the season.

Josh Reddick broke the tie with a run-scoring single to left. Reddick went to third on Danny Valencia’s single to center and scored on a fly ball by Stephen Vogt. The Yankees lost a shot at an inning-ending double play when third baseman Chase Headley bobbled a grounder by Jed Lowrie and Gregorius dropped Headley’s toss to second base for an error. A single off Headley’s glove by Khris Davis loaded the bases.

Then Hicks came to the rescue. After gloving Yonder Alonso’s fly to medium left field, Hicks threw a pea to catcher Brian McCann to complete the double play. Hicks, who has struggled at the plate (.050), finally made a major contribution in keeping the game from getting out of hand. He was a last-minute substitute for Brett Gardner, who has been scratched from the game due to a stiff neck.

But the Yankees could not get themselves back into the game offensively. They wasted golden opportunities in the first and seventh innings especially. Alex Rodriguez struck out looking in the first stranding the bases loaded. With runners on second and third and one out in the seventh, Gregorius made a bad read on a grounder by Hicks and was tagged out by Coghlan, the third baseman who then threw to first base for a huge double play that wounded the Yankees. They had another 0-fer game with runners in scoring position (0-for-4). The only other run came on Carlos Beltran’s fourth homer, a solo shot in the eighth.

“We’re just not scoring runs right now,” manager Joe Girardi understated after the game.  “It is hard to win if you don’t score.”

In the past eight games, the Yankees have scored more than three runs in a game just once, and their total in that game was merely four. They are averaging 4.1 runs per game. Of their 53 runs, 16 came in one game.

Adding to the embarrassment, the Yankees not only did not solve Athletics starter Kendall Graveman but also could not take advantage of the pitcher having to bat from the fourth inning on, a first at the current Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009. Valencia strained a hamstring on the play at the plate. Short on infielders, Oakland manager Bob Melvin had to pull Lowrie from the designated hitter spot and play him at second base with Coghlan moving from second to third to take over for Valencia. That turned Graveman and three A’s relievers into cleanup hitters. Graveman batted once and struck out. When’s the pitcher’s spot came up again, in the eighth, pinch hitter Billy Butler singled to start a rally that produced two more runs on a bases-loaded single by Davis.

Such productive hitting is precisely what the Yankees lack these days.

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