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09/06/06 1:00 AM ET

Yanks blanked by Royals

Timely hits missing, but Mussina feels good in return

KANSAS CITY -- The first seven innings of Tuesday night's Yankees-Royals game looked strikingly similar to the first seven innings of Monday night's game.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, there was nothing remotely the same about the eighth inning.

Kansas City's bullpen, which served up 10 runs in the eighth on Monday, held on to finish off New York on Tuesday, as the Royals shut out the Yankees, 5-0. It was Kansas City's first shutout of New York since Aug. 13, 2003.

"It shows you that, if you pitch, you have a chance to win," Derek Jeter said. "They've pitched us pretty good."

If there was any silver lining for the Yankees, it was the return of Mike Mussina, who started for the first time since Aug. 20. Mussina missed the past two-plus weeks with a right groin injury, and while he wasn't at his best on Tuesday, he had no problems with his leg.

"He's going to be sharper, but the best news for me is that he didn't feel a thing," Joe Torre said. "He threw enough strikes, he just didn't locate the way he normally could. I chalk that up to two weeks off."

Mussina (13-6) allowed four runs on eight hits and one walk over five-plus innings, striking out four.

"I wasn't too disappointed; it could have been a lot worse," Mussina said. "I got through it and didn't get hurt again. That's at least a positive; my leg was really good.

Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa kept the Yankees off the scoreboard over 5 2/3 innings, while Todd Wellemeyer finished things up with 3 1/3 scoreless frames to earn his first save of the season.

New York had several prime scoring opportunities, but the Yankees went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, with the one hit coming in the ninth inning -- and still not scoring a run.

"I thought a lot of their pitchers; they have good arms," Torre said. "They shut us down tonight."

The Yankees' lead in the American League East was cut to eight games (nine in the loss column) over the Red Sox. This is the first time since Aug. 24 that New York lost any ground in the AL East race to Boston.

The Royals welcomed Mussina back with a run in the first, as Mike Sweeney doubled in Mark Grudzielanek to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead.

After loading the bases with no outs, Kansas City tacked on a pair of runs in the fourth. John Buck's bases-loaded double play scored Emil Brown and Andres Blanco singled in Ryan Shealy, pushing the Royals' lead to three runs.

"My location wasn't great, but it's tough when you haven't turned it up to full speed for two weeks to get the ball right where you want to throw it every time," Mussina said. "I wasn't really disappointed, but it wasn't its best, either."

"The stuff was there," catcher Jorge Posada said. "He was up in the zone with his breaking balls, and location-wise, his fastball wasn't the pinpoint control that it normally is."

De La Rosa worked his way out of a jam in the second after the Yankees put runners on the corners with one out. In the fifth, Melky Cabrera led off with a double, but De La Rosa retired the next three batters, preserving the shutout.

De La Rosa was pulled from the game because of a blister with two on and two outs in the sixth, but Wellemeyer came in and struck out pinch-hitter Jason Giambi to end the inning.

"We had some opportunities and we came away empty," Torre said. "We're battling, getting men on base and doing some things, but you certainly have to credit the pitchers for getting us out."

Brown added to the lead in the sixth, drilling a 1-2 pitch by Mussina into the left-field seats. That would prove to be Mussina's final pitch, as Torre pulled him in favor of Brian Bruney, who retired all three batters he faced.

"You would expect him to be a little rusty since he hadn't pitched in a while," Jeter said of Mussina. "But the main concern is his health."

Sean Henn, called up from Columbus earlier in the day, gave up a run in the seventh to give the Royals a 5-0 lead.

The Yankees mounted one final rally in the ninth, loading the bases with two outs. That brought Jeter, who had struck out in each of his past two at-bats to end an inning with men in scoring position, to the plate.

Wellemeyer got the best of the Yankees' captain again, striking him out to end the game.

"He threw it by me pretty much every time," Jeter said. "It was already by me when I swung."

"Let's hope he got it all out of his system tonight," Torre said.

Although the result was not what the Yankees had hoped for, watching Mussina throw 86 pitches without even a wince was reassuring for everybody in the clubhouse.

"It takes a little sting out of it; it's been a couple of weeks since he's been out there, he threw 80-something pitches and came out of it unharmed other than the loss," Torre said. "He's going to give us a better chance to win out there than the people we had taking his place."

"It's the first day," Mussina said. "Two or three starts from now, when it's important to be back into some kind of pitching shape, hopefully that's where I'll be."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.