By RONALD BLUM, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Joe Girardi was frustrated. Six losses in seven games left the New York Yankees last in the AL East.
"I'm hoping this is rock-bottom," the manager said.
No, that's not this week. That was on May 20, 2008, 45 games into Girardi's first season as the Yankees manager — and the only season since 1994 that New York failed to make the playoffs.
As Yogi Berra says, it gets late early — especially in the Bronx. For a team that likes to constantly refer to its history, 2012 is starting to resemble 2008, when the Yankees started 20-25 and never really contended. They improved to 22-21 this season by beating Kansas City 3-2 Tuesday night, moving out of a last-place tie with Boston in the AL East.
"I think we're a much better team than what we've played, but it's no fun being down there," Girardi said before the game.
New York's offensive struggles with men on base reached new lows during Monday night's 6-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals. The Yankees went 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position, their most hitless at-bats with RISP since July 1990.
Bases loaded, no outs and they still couldn't score. Robinson Cano looked at strike three, Alex Rodriguez swung at strike three and Raul Ibanez flied out deep.
Even when they hit the ball hard, it's right at someone, prompting captain Derek Jeter to say: "At times, it looks like there's 20 people out there playing defense."
"Everything bad that could be happening right now is happening," Nick Swisher said. "We've just got to start winning."
Several teams are doing that lately at the Yankees' expense. In the last seven days, four different clubs have beaten them, with Kansas City joining Cincinnati, Toronto and Baltimore. It's the second time this year that four teams have defeated the Yankees in a single week, STATS LLC.
A 5½-game deficit in the AL East could be wiped out rather quickly, but the Yankees seem to be adrift.
"I haven't sensed a panic from our players. I think our players have remained positive," Girardi said. "Panic's not going to help anyone. It's just going to tighten players up and it's not really going to help. The concern that you could get sometimes is players trying to do too much, and I think that's what you really have to guard against with this group."
A handful of key pieces are missing.
Left fielder Brett Gardner has been sidelined by an elbow injury since April 17, sapping the batting order of spark and speed. Star closer Mariano Rivera is likely out for the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee while shagging fly balls at Kansas City on May 3. His replacement, David Robertson, is on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left ribcage.
Before Rivera got hurt, the Yankees were batting .270 with runners in scoring position. Now, they have eight hits in their last 79 at-bats (.101) with runners in scoring position over the past 10 games. New York is 0-10 when failing to hit a home run.
"It's very frustrating," Rodriguez said. "We've talked about it over and over again. You can't really describe it. It's not a lot of fun obviously going out and not getting the job done. But at this point, nobody's going to feel sorry for us."
CC Sabathia (5-2, 3.78 ERA) and Ivan Nova (4-2, 5.69) have winning records, but Hideki Kuroda (3-6, 4.56) and Phil Hughes (4-5, 4.94) have lagged. Freddy Garcia (0-2, 8.22) was sent to the bullpen, eventually clearing a spot for Andy Pettitte (1-1, 2.51).
At .265 going into Tuesday, the batting average was among the AL's highest — though not up to the Yankees' standards.
And the fans are letting them know, with the boos getting louder.
"You're going to hear it on the road, and you're going to hear it at home when you don't play well," Girardi said. "It's because our fans are passionate and they want us to win. And I understand that. So do the guys in that room. If they're unhappy with us, believe me, we're probably unhappier."
Girardi was asked Tuesday if he had heard from ownership lately. He said he had received some text messages, "but nothing out of the ordinary."