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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The rush-hour traffic snarl outside Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday afternoon was probably the last thing that the Rockies wanted to see upon leaving the ballpark.
After struggling against Kansas City pitching for two days, including a gem thrown by Jason Vargas in a 3-2 series-ending loss to the Royals, the slumping club was in a hurry to get back to Colorado and a stadium where things have been going much better this season
The Rockies are hitting .353 with a 13-5 record in the thin air of Coors Field. They're hitting .251 with a 10-14 mark away from home.
"There's history with our ball club for 20 years. That's been the trend," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "We perform well at home, but we haven't so much on the road in the past."
Vargas (4-1) did not allow a hit until the fourth inning and did not allow a run until Drew Stubbs belted a two-run homer to left in the seventh to make things interesting.
Louis Coleman got the Royals out of the inning without any more damage, and Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth before Greg Holland survived a shaky ninth for his 10th save.
After giving up a one-out single to Carlos Gonzalez and walking Nolan Arenado, Holland got Justin Morneau to hit a grounder to second. The ball was fielded cleanly and Kansas City got the runner there, but Morneau barely beat the throw to first base to keep the game going.
Holland promptly struck out Stubbs to leave the tying run on third base.
"We felt like we were going to win that game, especially after Drew hit that home run," Weiss said. "That never changed in the dugout."
Jhoulys Chacin (1-1) allowed all three runs on a double by Mike Moustakas in the second inning, but otherwise pitched well. He allowed seven walks and a hit over six.
The Rockies came into the two-game series swinging the best bats in the majors, but they were silenced by some stingy pitching. James Shields was their foil in a 5-1 Royals victory in Tuesday night's opener, combining with the bullpen on a 12-strikeout performance.
Vargas was just as tough, striking out a season-high eight in 6 2-3 innings.
"I think we were able to control the strike zone early and make pitches early," he said. "When we're able to do that and get ahead, it puts the defense in a good spot to make a play and puts us in a good position to control the count."
One of Vargas' strikeouts proved to be especially important: Troy Tulowitzki was left looking at a called third strike in the fourth inning. The leading hitter in the major leagues argued with plate umpire Dan Bellino over the location, which appeared down and in, and continued their one-sided conversation when he had reached the dugout. Bellino responded by ejecting him.
"I felt like it was over once Tulo went back to the dugout," Weiss said. "He heard him say something and that's when he threw him out."
D.J. LeMahieu took his spot in the lineup. And when the Rockies had runners on the corners in the sixth, it was LeMahieu rather than Tulowitzki at the plate. He struck out.
"Sometimes you just get caught up in the moment," Tulowitzki said, "but to sit there and say do you regret doing that, no, because we weren't playing well the last couple of games. Sometimes that lights a little spark in the team."
So much for that. The Rockies could never coax across the tying run, and have now lost five of their last six games after winning nine of their previous 11.
"We've got to go back home and get it going again," Weiss said. "No doubt about it."
NOTES: Royals LHP Bruce Chen (bulging disk) threw a brief side session before the game. He will need at least one more before the team considers a rehab assignment. ... The Rockies are off Thursday before starting a three-game set against San Diego. RHP Yordano Ventura starts Thursday for Kansas City in the opener of a four-game series against Baltimore.