“I don’t think we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves; we just have to play better,” Valaika said. “Everyone can get better and I know we will.”

Valaika jumped on a 3-2 curveball from Royals left-hander Mike Minor and skied it into the left-field corner an estimated 366 feet per Statcast™.

Story's backhanded play

“It was a terrible pitch,” Minor said. “There were a lot of them in that at-bat. I just hung it. It didn’t have good break. It was a like a cement mixer, no depth to it.”

The Rockies, who got a perfect ninth inning from Holland (36 saves), remained a half-game behind Arizona for the top Wild Card spot in the National League and increased their lead over the idle Brewers to 3 1/2 games. The Royals dropped six games behind the first-place Indians in the American League Central and remained a half-game back for the second AL Wild Card berth.

Holland harnesses command, twirls clean 9th

Holland notches the save

“This was a tough loss,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But I think as a team we’re playing pretty good right now.”

Rockies rookie German Marquez was solid as well, going six innings while giving up eight hits and two runs on solo homers from leadoff man Whit Merrifield in the first and Brandon Moss to open the second.

“You know what Catfish Hunter said: Solo homers don’t beat you,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Today, they didn’t.”

Moss' solo home run

Rockies leadoff hitter Charlie Blackmon, who will wear “Chuck Nazty” on his jersey for the upcoming three-game set in Atlanta during Players Weekend, entered the day tied with the Dodgers’ Justin Turner for the NL batting lead, and went 2-for-4 to improve one point to .337.

Royals rookie Jake Junis went 5 1/3 innings and gave up seven hits and one run while striking out seven, the latter matching a career high.

“I was commanding the slider both sides of the plate, early and late in the count,” Junis said. “That allowed me to pitch a pretty good game.”

Junis strikes out the side

Huge double play: The Rockies already had pushed across one run in the sixth on Raimel Tapia‘s RBI single to left, and they had runners on first and third with one out with a chance to even the score at 2-2. But lefty Scott Alexander‘s heavy sinker came through, and he got Trevor Story to hit a grounder to short, which the Royals converted into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

“That was huge,” Junis said. “Allowed us to keep the lead.” More >

Escobar, Merrifield turn two

Quick start for Whit: Merrifield started off the Royals’ first by cracking his 15th home run, a shot into the left-field seats. Merrifield worked the count full against Marquez and then pounced on a two-seam fastball and jolted it out — Statcast™ estimated it traveled 389 feet.

Merrifield's solo home run

“After I popped up the at-bat before, I was pretty frustrated and Chuck [Blackmon] came up to me and said something simple: ‘Just stay with it.’ And that kind of just got my mind right. It’s over with. Get to the next at-bat, which is kind of what I did.” — Valaika, on overcoming earlier frustration before his home run

Rockies: Right-hander Chad Bettis (0-0, 1.93) ERA, who made his emotional return from a bout with testicular cancer with seven scoreless innings against the Braves on Aug. 14, will face Atlanta once more on Friday in their first visit to Sun Trust Park at 5:35 p.m. MT. The Braves will start righty Julio Teheran, who also pitched well in the game at Coors Field, coming away with a no-decision in the 3-0 Colorado win.

Royals Left-hander Jason Vargas (14-7, 3.59 ERA) takes the mound on Friday at Progressive Field at 6:10 p.m. CT as the Royals open a three-game set with the Indians. Vargas, aka “Vargy” for Players Weekend, gave up four runs and six hits over 4 2/3 innings in a 5-0 loss to the Tribe last Saturday.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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