"It looked like we were reaching for the ball," Yankees manager Joe Torre said after Stein limited New York to two hits in eight innings, leading the Kansas City Royals to a 4-1 win Wednesday that gave Denny Neagle his first loss since mid-June.
Stein (2-3) gave up only a third-inning single by Chuck Knoblauch and an eighth-inning single to Derek Jeter that was followed by Paul O'Neill's sacrifice fly.
He lowered his ERA from 7.28 to 5.97 but walked six, hit a batter and threw just 62 of 122 pitches for strikes.
"I threw more fastballs than I usually do because I was behind so much." Stein said. "When you do that, mostly you're not going to be successful. But I made good pitches, and that's why I had so many fly balls to left. I was trying to make them hit it out there, because there's a lot of room."
New York didn't get a runner past second for the first seven innings.
"Something didn't click," said O'Neill, who twice flied to left. "That's where you want to keep the ball in Yankee Stadium. It's Death Valley out there, and the ball wasn't carrying today."
Jeter was 1-for-4, leaving his slump at 3-for-22, and Bernie Williams was 0-for-3, extending his slide to 4-for-22.
"It is frustrating when you are patient, draw some walks, get a couple of guys on base," Jeter said.
New York's atters maintrained they got good pitches but hit the ball right at fielders.
"It certainly wasn't a dominating two-hitter," Scott Brosius said.
In his only other appearance against the Yankees, Stein allowed one run and three hits in eight innings last Aug. 19.
"When I came in here last year, it was the first time I pitched in Yankee Stadium. I was a little nervous. so I took the feelings I had last year and tried to use that today," he said. "Any time you play the Yankees, they're going to bring out the best in a team. If you don't play your best, they're going to beat you."
Ricky Bottalico finished with a hitless ninth for for his ninth save in 15 chances. Kansas City beat New York for the first time in five games this year and also stopped a five-game losing streak.
"We kind of found ways to lose," Royals manager Tony Muser said. "Today, we found ways to win."
Still, Stein's performance was surprising given the trouble he pitched himself into. Todd Dunwoody, playing center field, helped him in the second with a diving catch on Chris Turner with two outs and a man on.
"When you walk six, I think you are fortunate," Muser said.
Neagle (2-1) lost for the first time in eight starts since June 14 at San Francisco.
He had been dominating in his first three outings for New York, which acquired him from Cincinnati on July 12, but against the Twins he allowed the leadoff runner to reach in seven of eight innings, and didn't have a 1-2-3 inning all day.
"It was one of those days I battled myself," said Neagle, who had trouble locating his cut fastball and slider, giving up four runs three earned and 11 hits in seven-plus innings.
New York (57-45) began the day 13 games over .500 and with a four-game lead in the AL East, the Yankees' bests since May 9. While Neagle escaped a first-and-second, no-outs jam in the first, he knew he was in trouble.
"I looked at Rocket," he said, referring to Roger Clemens, "and said you hate to battle like that in the first inning usually, you like to save it for the sixth or the seventh, to get out of a jam."
Kansas City came right back and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Dave McCarty doubled over Williams' head in center, went to third on a single by Hector Ortiz Jr. and scored when Dunwoody doubled high off the center-field fence, ending an 0-for-11 slide.
Luis Ordaz's sacrifice fly brought in the second run and Johnny Damon, who was 3-for-5, poked an outside pitch for an RBI double over the third-base bag.
Joe Randa added an RBI grounder in the seventh after second bseman Jose Vizcaino dropped the throw from Tino Martinez on a sacrifice and Neagle moved up the runners with a balk.
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