NEW YORK -- Joe Girardi insisted there was no panic in the Yankees' clubhouse as they welcomed Baltimore to New York with little more than a month to play and their American League East lead suddenly not so secure. But there was panic in Yankee Stadium on Friday, expressed in boos throughout New York's series-opening 6-1 loss that brought the Orioles within two games of first place in the division.
"It's that time of the year where we know what's going on," said Eric Chavez. "We don't really have to look at the scoreboard because we're playing the team we'd be looking at, but we're probably going to be doing that for the next couple weeks. We need to clean up what we're doing in here and take care of what's going on with our play."
What's going on is a lack of offense without sluggers Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the middle of the order -- the Yankees did not score until Curtis Granderson homered in the ninth -- and their best pitchers struggling to make pitches.
A game after CC Sabathia uncharacteristically surrendered two Yankees leads, Hiroki Kuroda gave up two home runs that proved to be the difference in an otherwise smooth night.
He allowed four runs, but looked so sharp and efficient at times that there was no activity in the Yankees' bullpen until Baltimore hit a pair of singles to start the eighth. The right-hander escaped that jam with a pair of groundouts and a check-swing popup, then returned in the ninth to record one more out before giving way to the bullpen with no one on after throwing only 99 pitches.
Kuroda retired 12 consecutive Orioles at one point, but home runs bookended that stretch, providing more than enough offense to counter the quiet Yankees' lineup, which has averaged fewer than three runs per game in the past three games without Teixeira.
"He made a couple mistakes, and they made him pay," Girardi said.
J.J. Hardy hit the second, a line drive to left field in the sixth inning that made it 4-0. Mark Reynolds hit the first, a towering ball into the second deck in left field that capped a three-run second inning before he homered again off Derek Lowe in a two-run ninth.
"It was one mistake pitch too many, and I gave up another one later in the game," Kuroda said. "That really cost us the game."
It allowed Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez to work quickly and aggressively against New York, retiring the first nine batters he faced until Derek Jeter started the fourth inning with a single to left. Gonzalez responded by striking out the next two batters -- Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano -- and forcing Granderson to fly out.
He consistently got ahead in counts, walking only one batter while striking out nine in seven scoreless innings.
"The adrenaline, the aggressiveness, I like pitching against a good offensive team, I guess," Gonzalez said. "I get better. My pitches, obviously, today they were real good. I was pitching them in and out, and changing speeds helped me out."
The Yankees threatened against the rookie in the sixth and seventh innings, but stranded two runners each time in their second loss to the 28-year-old this season.
They had two on with no outs in the sixth before the top of the order left them there. Then they had two on with two outs in the seventh before Ichiro Suzuki hit into a fielder's choice. Granderson's ninth-inning homer brought hopeful cheers from the anxious crowd, but meant little, as it still felt enough like a shutout that Swisher mistakenly called it a 6-0 loss when asked whether the Yankees needed to be reminded not to panic with their AL East lead at its smallest since it stood at 1 1/2 games on June 22.
"I think that 6-0 loss tonight was enough," said Swisher, who went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
Girardi said before the game he would watch his players' at-bats to see if they were pressing, and he did not see it against Baltimore. He simply saw a pitcher who was better than his lineup, throwing 91 mph but making it look like 95 with how quickly and deceptively it left his right hand, according to Chavez.
So the clubhouse is not panicking -- Swisher said he would sign up for a two-game lead in the division to start September if offered it in Spring Training -- but the silence in the stadium after a strikeout to end the game sounded like a lot of concern.
"I was satisfied with our at-bats. I think our effort is great. I think they're grinding it out," Girardi said. "Just right now, it's not working for us."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.