Rapid Reaction: Royals 2, Yankees 1

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Here's something the New York Yankees should have to write on the blackboard 500 times, or go to bed without supper: I must get better at situational hitting.

In a 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals that puts them in danger of losing the four-game series, the struggling Yanks were an appalling 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

Until Ichiro Suzuki's RBI groundout scored Yangervis Solarte from third base in the sixth, the Yankees had flailed away at a 1-for-11 clip with runners in scoring position.

Laboring from first pitch, James Shields was ripe for the picking on this sticky, cloudy afternoon. But the Yanks squandered opportunity after opportunity before tumbling back to .500 at 31-31.

What a waste: Futility came early and often. The Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out in the second on two singles and a walk and Shields, to that point, had allowed five baserunners. But he struck out Kelly Johnson, retired Solarte on a nifty 3-1 force at home and then fanned Derek Jeter after starting him 0-2. So the Yanks got nothing but mounting frustration.

Jacoby Ellsbury doubled leading off the next inning but, continuing the theme, Carlos Beltran grounded out and Brian McCann and Solarte struck out, giving the Yanks six stranded runners in only three beat-your-head-against-the-wall innings.

Brian Roberts doubled with one out in the fourth but died at second. Brett Gardner tripled with one out in the seventh, then watched Jeter ground meekly to short and Ellsbury strike out.

Suzuki, carrying the tying run, remained at third base as closer Greg Holland struck out Gardner to end what has to be one of the most frustrating Yankee losses in a very long time.

Also wasted: A second straight fine outing by Hiroki Kuroda. The righthander allowed only two runs on five hits. The start before, he allowed only one run on two hits in 6 2-3 innings in a 5-2 loss to Oakland.

Coming up short: Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar robbed Jeter with a standout play in the first, diving to his right to stop a hot smash and, from his knees, throwing out his Yankee counterpart by half a step.

DJ-$10K: The Royals will honor the retiring Jeter prior to Monday's game and present him with a $10,000 check for Turn 2, his charity organization which promotes healthy lifestyles among youth. In his last appearance in Kauffman Stadium, Jeter has drawn appreciative applause from KC fans every time he's come to bat.

Heating up: Solarte is swinging the Yanks' only hot bat. After going 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored on Saturday night, the rookie infielder went 2-for-4 with a double and another run scored.

Extremely red-faced: Next to the Yankees' hitters with runners in scoring position, the most embarrassed person in the stadium had to be the poor right field ball boy. Brian Roberts rifled a shot down the line in the fourth inning which the umpire signaled fair. But as right fielder Nori Aoki ran to the ball, the youngster calmly picked it up and handed it to someone in the stands. It went for a ground-rule double as the youngster sheepishly sat down on his folding chair. But between innings, kindly first base coach Rusty Kuntz went over to talk to the lad and give him a reassuring pat on the back. A couple of innings later when somebody lashed a ball down the line that was clearly foul, the kid never budged.

Monday: In the finale of the four-game set, the Yanks will send rookie lefthander Vidal Nuno (1-2) to the mound to face Jason Vargas (5-2).