KANSAS CITY, Mo. —If this isn't rock bottom for the Royals, then look out.
It's hard to get much worse than Friday's 6-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs, which turned on two crucial plays in the ninth inning: A suspect call by umpire Jeff Kellogg and a costly error by usually reliable Chris Getz.
And here we are: The Royals have lost six in a row, eight of nine and, at 31-45, now own the second-worst record in baseball. Only Houston, at 28-49, is worse. Friday's loss dropped the Royals below the Cubs, who are now 31-44.
There was no shortage of mea culpas resulting from the disastrous ninth, which began just fine, actually. Reliever Aaron Crow, who breezed through the eighth in eight pitches, began the inning by striking out Alfonso Soriano.
It began to fall apart when Tony Campana tried for a bunt single.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas attempted a shoestring catch and, believing he succeeded, showed the ball to home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, the crew chief.
When Kellogg immediately signaled "no catch," Moustakas, after the briefest hesitation, threw to first. That pause was enough; Campana beat the throw for a single.
Replays suggested Moustakas might have caught the ball, but he blamed himself for not reacting quicker.
"I thought I caught it," he said, "but I need to throw the ball to first base no matter what. I've got to come up throwing no matter what. You can't have that. It cost us the ballgame tonight.
"If that doesn't happen, who knows what happens in that inning? It was a complete turnaround of the game. I've just got to come up throwing to first on everything. I can't be too sure about anything. I've got to make the play. I have to make the play."
DJ LeMahieu followed with a hit-and-run single through the right side on a 3-1 fastball that moved Campana to third with one out.
"The biggest thing was falling behind LeMahieu once the guy got on base," Crow said. "It was a 3-1 count, and that's a good count for them to hit-and-run in. They knew a fastball was coming.
"If I get ahead of him, the inning could turn out totally different. I've got to do better next time."
Even so, Crow should have been out of the inning when Kosuke Fukudome hit a potential double-play grounder to second. Except Getz failed to handle the hop.
"I should have had it," Getz said. "It's a ball I could certainly make (the play on). It was a top-spin ball, and I took a step back. It just came up, and I missed it. What are you going to do? It's part of playing the infield."
Everyone was safe, the Cubs led 5-4, still had runners at first and third — and still had just one out. Starlin Castro followed with an RBI single up the middle for another run.
The inning finally ended on a double play that, ironically, Getz started after handling Aramis Ramirez's grounder.
The Royals tried to answer in their ninth against Chicago closer Carlos Marmol, who issued a leadoff walk to Getz before Melky Cabrera pulled a drive to deep right that just hooked foul.
Marmol recovered by striking out Cabrera. He also struck out Eric Hosmer, who endured a brutal 0-for-5 night, before Billy Butler sliced a double to right that put the tying run in scoring position.
Jarrod Dyson replaced Butler at second, but Marmol ended the game by retiring Alex Gordon on a grounder to short. Sean Marshall (4-2) got the victory after working a scoreless eighth. Marmol recorded his 16th save.
Crow (2-1) was the loser.
"I thought (Moustakas) caught that ball," Crow said, "but it was a close play. It didn't go our way, but I've had a lot of bounces go my way so far this year. It was bound to happen eventually."
Chicago finished with 15 hits, including three apiece by Castro and Ramirez, so it wasn't all bounces. Still, the Royals led 4-3 after six innings and repeatedly made the Cubs pay a price for aggressive base-running.
Catcher Brayan Pen~a helped limit damage to one run in the first inning by throwing out Castro on an attempted steal of third. Alex Gordon recorded two assists from left field, and Jeff Francoeur had one from right field.
Francoeur also broke a homerless drought spanning 112 at-bats and dating to May 22 by hitting a two-run shot in the three-run fourth against Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. It just wasn't enough.
Royals lefty Bruce Chen returned from a 50-day absence caused by a strained lat muscle in his lower back by pitching into the seventh inning. He handed a 4-3 lead to reliever Blake Wood after Carlos Pen~a's leadoff double.
Soriano's bloop single moved Pen~a to third before pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt bounced into a run-scoring double play. That ensured Chen of a no-decision; Dempster also got a no-decision.
The Cubs threatened for more in the seventh by loading the bases with successive two-out singles by LeMahieu, Fukudome and Castro before Wood struck out Ramirez. That meant Chicago had five hits, but no RBIs, in the inning.
It stayed 4-4 until the ninth.