Yanks baffled by Shields, drop tough one to Royals

Pineda allows unearned run; NY 4 1/2 games back of second Wild Card

Yanks baffled by Shields, drop tough one to Royals

NEW YORK -- If a game like Friday night happened in the middle of June, the Yankees would have no problem tipping their cap to a dominant performance by Royals starter James Shields. But with the increasing importance of each game, New York can hardly afford that luxury.

The Yankees do not have games remaining with the teams they are chasing -- Mariners, Tigers -- in the race for the second American League Wild Card spot. This three-game series with the AL Central-leading Royals is as close as the Yankees can get to beating a team in front of them, and yet they lost Friday night's opener, 1-0, to reduce their already slim margin for error.

New York is now 4 1/2 games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card standings with time running out for the offense to snap out of a season-long slump.

Shields kept the Yankees' offense off-balance from the start, retiring the first 11 batters he faced until Brett Gardner doubled in the fourth inning. That was the first of three hits from the Yankees scattered throughout the game. And Shields proceeded to carve through their lineup with little resistance. He struck out six and did not issue a walk.

"We just really never got anything going," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Shields kissed the baseball as he left the mound after completing the eighth inning to celebrate pitching 200 innings for the eighth consecutive year. He returned for the ninth inning to try to complete his shutout, but a one-out single by Derek Jeter knocked him out of the game in favor of reliever Wade Davis.

Jeter was lifted for a pinch-runner, Antoan Richardson, who stole second base to give the Yankees their best scoring threat of the game. But Davis, who ran his scoreless-innings streak to 28 2/3, promptly struck out the next two hitters.

"I think this is a big road trip for us," Shields said. "It's going to set the tone for the rest of the season, I think, especially with these guys in the hunt still and Detroit after these guys, so to be able to set the tone early is always nice. But our main goal is to try to win the series and try to sweep these guys. It's a good start."

The Yankees' scoring issues have been well-documented this season, but they are perplexingly magnified when Michael Pineda is the starting pitcher. In his last nine starts, including Friday, the Yankees have scored just 16 runs for him.

He pitched brilliantly again facing the Royals, allowing one unearned run on three hits without a walk in seven innings.

Nori Aoki drove home the lone run of the game in the third inning with a single to plate Alcides Escober, who reached on a two-base error from third baseman Chase Headley.

Headley is one of the Yankees' best defensive players and watched the tape almost immediately after the game, as he said he always does, to see if he could have done something in his technique to prevent the error. Headley did not think he could have done anything differently. The ball was hit hard and bounced off the top of the thumb area on his glove, and he believes he would have fielded it cleanly if it bounced an inch or two lower.

"It stinks that that happened," Headley said. "I wish it hadn't, but there's not a whole lot you can do about it after it does."

But that's how little room for error the Yankees have at this point.

Pineda became just the second Yankees pitcher in the last 10 years to lose a game in which he did not allow an earned run (Dan Giese on June 21, 2008). He has allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his nine starts this season, yet his record dropped to 3-4.

Pineda's season has been interrupted on several occasions -- a suspension for using pine tar, a shoulder injury and then a setback -- causing him to miss four months. But when he has taken the mound, he has been dominant, leaving the Yankees to wonder what could have been had he pitched the entire year.

"You know, I no have control over the situation," Pineda said. "This is the game."

The Yankees find themselves feeling the same way. No control, other than knowing they desperately need some wins.

Jamal Collier is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.