NEW YORK -- When four of the first five Yankees hitters singled to drive in a run and load the bases with one out in the first inning, manager Joe Girardi thought his team would be able to score more than just that one run.
Only it couldn't. In fact, New York didn't score another run the rest of the night.
After recording four hits in the first one-third of an inning, the Yankees put just four runners on base over the final 8 2/3 frames. The Royals scored runs in three of the game's final four innings, securing a 3-1 victory and handing New York its third straight loss.
"We have not scored a ton of runs all year long," Girardi said. "As I said when we left Spring Training, we were going to have to win a lot of close games. We weren't going to score the runs probably that we did last year, and that's what we're going through."
The first inning was the Yankees' only real chance to score. Center fielder Brett Gardner, right fielder Ichiro Suzuki and second baseman Robinson Cano hit back-to-back-to-back singles to lead off the inning and drive in a run, and after designated hitter Travis Hafner struck out, left fielder Zoilo Almonte singled to load the bases with one out.
The Yankees couldn't capitalize off Royals starter James Shields, though. First baseman Lyle Overbay struck out and shortstop Eduardo Nunez flew out, ending the threat.
"You want to cash in there and get as many runs as you can against Shields. Once he gets into a rhythm, he can be tough," Hafner said. "But even if you miss there, you still expect to have good at-bats and give yourself chances."
Those chances never came. Shields shut down the Yankees after those first five batters, allowing just one hit over his final 6 2/3 innings on the mound.
"James Shields, after the first inning, really settled in and did a great job," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Holding the fort in the first inning was huge."
CC Sabathia nearly matched the Royals' ace on the mound, but his mistakes late in the game proved too much for a stagnant offense to overcome. After allowing just one hit over five scoreless innings to start the game, the left-hander gave up a run each in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.
In the sixth inning, David Lough hit a home run into the second deck in right field. In the seventh, Billy Butler hit his second blast in as many nights against the Yankees. And in the eighth, Eric Hosmer hit an RBI double to drive in the Royals' third run.
"I feel like I've been letting these guys down," Sabathia said. "We've been struggling swinging the bats and we scored early off Shields. I mean, it was 1-0, but still. You don't want to give up the lead."
Sabathia surrendered a total of seven hits in the game, allowing three runs over nine innings while walking two and striking out six. It was his ninth loss in 37 career complete games, and he leads the Yankees with 20 home runs allowed this season.
"It's frustrating. A loss is a loss no matter how many innings you throw, how many runs you give up," Sabathia said. "If you lose the game, you lose the game and that's all that really matters."
Still, the offense didn't help him. Royals pitchers retired 14 consecutive batters between the third and eighth innings, and only one Yankees hitter reached base over the final six frames.
Tuesday marked the third straight and 29th time this season the Yankees have scored two runs or fewer in a game. They have lost 28 of those.
"It's baseball. Maybe it's because I understood the struggles as a player because the game wasn't really easy for me," Girardi said. "One of the things that's always been preached to me is don't forget how hard the game is to play. These guys can make it look easy sometimes, but this is not an easy game to play."
Right now, it doesn't look easy for the Yankees' hitters. Five players in Tuesday's starting lineup are hitting lower than .255 this season, and Almonte holds the highest average of any starter at .284.
Shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez are both on rehab assignments, so reinforcements could be on the way soon. But outfielder Curtis Granderson hasn't begun swinging a bat yet.
So for now, all Girardi can do is rely on the guys he has in the room.
"I feel like these guys can get it done. I'll always believe in them, that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "That's who I am, and I believe that we can get it done. We're going to have to score some more runs, there's no question about that. But I believe we can do it."
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.