KANSAS CITY -- A single Yankees loss to the team with baseball's worst record will happen from time to time. Two such losses, well, that's rare. But three?

The Yankees last dropped a trio of games to baseball's worst team five years ago, when the Tigers swept them in Detroit. The only other time before that was 1937, when the A's swept the Yanks in three games in Philadelphia, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

That was, at least, until Thursday night, when the Yankees dropped a 5-2 decision to the Royals, a team that has been mired for two years at the bottom of the American League's Central Division and had won just 13 of 50 games this season before the Yankees rolled into Kauffman Stadium. How do you explain that?

"Every team we play is going to get up for us," Derek Jeter said. "Everyone wants to show us they can play. We've got to come ready."

The Yankees, though, didn't come ready. They scored just two runs during the series finale and collected seven hits. Their starting pitcher, Carl Pavano, struggled through 5 1/3 innings and picked up his second straight loss. When they actually managed a threat during the ninth inning they wound up leaving the bases loaded, the go-ahead run standing on first.

The evening didn't always look so dismal. The Yankees actually grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the first inning when Tony Womack, back in the lineup, walked, advanced to third on Gary Sheffield's double and came around to score when Hideki Matsui drove a sacrifice fly to center field. Pavano, meanwhile, retired the first eight Royals on all of 24 pitches. That was when the trouble began.

Pavano gave up a two-out single, then a run-scoring double. Like that, the lead was gone. So, too, were Pavano's most effective innings.

During the fourth, the right-hander gave up a single, a double and another single, and trailed, all of a sudden, 3-1. The next inning, the Yankees drew to within one run after Jorge Posada singled, advanced to second on a fielding error and scored on Jeter's single.

They could have scored more runs, though, had Bernie Williams not been tagged out at second after he tried to tag up on a Robinson Cano flyout to center field. Williams sprinted in to the bag, but wound up as the second out of an 8-4 double play.

"I was just taking a gamble," Williams said. "It's a great play if you make it, it's a terrible play if you don't."

It was terrible and, according to manager Joe Torre, bad baserunning.

"It's under the category of things you shouldn't do and, unfortunately, we've committed too many [of those things]," Torre said. "They're certainly magnified when you lose a ballgame."

The runs that ensured the Yankees loss came during the sixth when Pavano gave up back-to-back home runs to Matt Stairs and Terrence Long, who had entered the game having hit just six homers between them. Pavano faced two more batters before exiting after 5 1/3 largely ineffective innings. He gave up five runs and nine hits, and struck out two. And after retiring those first eight hitters, the Royals batted 9-for-17 against him.

"I don't know if frustrated is the word," Pavano said. "The [Yankees] definitely needed a solid outing from me to win this game and avoid a sweep and I didn't pitch well at all. My job was to go out there and help the team and I didn't.

"I felt like I was aggressive the whole game, but there was no rhyme or reason. The [Royals] just took advantage of some pitches over the plate and ran with it. They did that the whole series, they took advantage of our mistakes."

"They pitched us tough all series," Alex Rodriguez said. "They pretty much played every facet of the game better than us. That's why they have three wins and we have three losses."

The result of the Yankees' midweek blunders: a five-game losing streak, their first in more than two years, and a 27-26 record. They only remained five games back of the division-leading Orioles by virtue of Baltimore's loss on Thursday at Boston.

Can anything good come of being swept out of town by the Royals? Well, consider that baseball's worst team swept the Yankees in 1937 and 2000. Then remember that the Bronx Bombers went on to win the World Series during both of those seasons. The Yankees are a far cry from that point right now, but maybe, just maybe, history will smile on them.