SAN DIEGO — That "o" in San Diego isn't there to mock the Royals. It only seems that way after they stumbled through a 4-1 loss Wednesday afternoon that completed the Padres' three-game sweep at Petco Park.
The Royals have now made two trips to Petco, in 2004 and this week, and are winless in six games. The start to that 2004 visit was the infamous Ken Harvey game, when the Royals lost by hitting the cutoff man — in the back.
Judged solely by their Petco performances, not much has changed.
Wednesday's game turned when the Royals failed to record an out on a routine infield pop-up by Tim Stauffer, the Padres' starting pitcher, in the third inning. That botch led to four unearned runs.
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First baseman Eric Hosmer appeared to lose the ball in the bright and cloudless sky as the entire infield gathered in a supportive circle.
"That's my ball all the way," Hosmer said. "I was running toward it, and I was just to the right of it, and it got into the sun. That's when I yelled that I couldn't see it. That's a tough one to swallow right there."
Third baseman Mike Moustakas made a belated stab at the ball, but it clanged off his glove and, after a quick bobble, fell to the ground. The error, correctly if somewhat unfairly, went to Moustakas.
"It's a weird play," Moustakas said, "but that ball has to be caught. Someone has to catch it, whether it's me, Hos or anybody. We've got to catch that ball. It hit right in my glove. I should have squeezed it. It just kind of popped out."
Where the ball fell wasn't exactly the same spot where right fielder Matt Stairs drilled Harvey on his throw home. But it was close enough to hear a ghost's chains rattle.
"As soon as it went up," manager Ned Yost said, "Hosmer called it. Then it got into the sun, and it got to be a goat rope after that."
Royals starter Bruce Chen had a chance to pitch around the mistake by retiring two of the next three hitters, but the Padres strung together five straight two-out hits for their four runs.
Their only four runs.
"That (error) wasn't the problem," Chen said. "The problem was later on, I made some bad pitches."
Stauffer (4-5) limited the Royals to one run and four hits in seven innings while striking out six and walking two. Josh Spence allowed two hits in the eighth, but Chad Squalls stranded runners at first and third by striking out Jeff Francoeur.
It was Francoeur's fourth strikeout, and it epitomized the Royals' series-long trend of wasting scoring opportunities.
They got an RBI single from Hosmer in the third inning, which produced a brief 1-0 lead, but that was their only hit in 11 chances with runners in scoring position. That left them 3 for 28 over the three games with runners in scoring position.
"When you score one run," manager Ned Yost said, "it makes everything else a moot point. We're struggling offensively right now. You hate to keep saying that it goes in cycles, but it does — and it would be nice for the cycle to turn our way here."
The Royals opened the ninth inning with successive singles by Moustakas and Brayan Pen~a against Padres closer Heath Bell.
Again, they couldn't cash the opportunity.
Alcides Escobar and pinch-hitter Mitch Maier flied to center before Bell completed his 23rd save in 24 chances by retiring Melky Cabrera on a fly to left.
The loss dropped the Royals to 33-48 at the midpoint in their schedule, which puts them on pace for a 96-loss season - or one more than last year. They have an open date today before concluding interleague play with a three-game series at Colorado.
"I think we can all use this off-day," Francoeur said. "It's a good time for an off-day. Hopefully, everybody can get out there and enjoy themselves and come to the park Friday ready to go."
Chen (4-2) allowed eight hits but no earned runs in his six innings. He struck out six, walked one and lowered his ERA to 3.46 but summed up his day as: "A lot of ifs."
Most of them came in the San Diego third:
Stauffer hit a high pop to the middle of the diamond that the entire infield surrounded but failed to catch. Chris Denorfia followed with a soft-serve single to right that moved Stauffer to second.
Cameron Maybin then hit a pop to the middle of the diamond, and Chen called everyone off the ball and made the catch. Chen didn't need to do that, really. The infield fly rule was in effect, and Maybin was already out.
But it was hard to fault Chen after the earlier misplay, and he then retired Chase Headley on a fly to short right before everything fell apart.
Ryan Ludwick ripped a RBI double to left, and Anthony Rizzo followed with a two-run single to right. Rizzo stole third, without a throw, and scored when Orlando Hudson's slow chop to third spun away from Moustakas for an RBI single and a 4-1 lead.
"We got that 1-0 lead," Francoeur said, "and we felt we were going to roll because Bruce had it going in the first couple of innings. Then that pop-up... and the flood gates opened after that."