Saunders pitches Diamondbacks past Dodgers 7-2

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LOS ANGELES (AP)—The Arizona Diamondbacks’ mantra all season has been to keep pushing, a familiar refrain used by manager Kirk Gibson. They haven’t let up one bit.

Gerardo Parra(notes) tied a career high with four RBIs to back seven strong innings by Joe Saunders(notes) and the Diamondbacks rode a five-run sixth inning to a 7-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night, reducing their magic number to seven for clinching the NL West title.

Arizona, vying for the fifth division crown in the franchise’s 14-year history, is 17-3 following a season-worst six-game losing streak. The win put the Diamondbacks 24 games over .500, matching their season best.

“It’s been a good run, but we’ve got to keep pushing because nothing’s guaranteed,” Gibson said. “You grow as a team, and certain things help you grow. K.T. (general manager Kevin Towers) has done a great job of fine-tuning what we thought some of our weaknesses were.”

The Diamondbacks’ fortunes have changed dramatically since July 29, when they came to Dodger Stadium for a three-game series and acquired starter Jason Marquis(notes) and reliever Brad Ziegler(notes) on consecutive days in trades with Washington and Oakland before leaving Los Angeles. Since then, they have gone 28-14 to turn a four-game deficit into an 8 1/2 -game lead over San Francisco.

“Some of the finer points in the game of baseball we’re starting to utilize more than we had earlier in the year, and there’s a lot more communication,” Gibson said. “We had our advance meeting today and some of the veteran guys spoke up about some things that we’re looking for that are going to help us in the future.”

Saunders (11-12) allowed four hits, struck out four and walked one. The only runs against the left-hander came on Matt Kemp’s(notes) first-inning homer and an RBI single by rookie Jerry Sands(notes), who had three hits.

“My goal tonight was to throw strikes and try not to walk anybody,” said Saunders, who retired 13 in a row at one point. “I ended up walking the leadoff guy in the seventh and he scored, so I wasn’t too happy about that. But I tried to mix speeds up against a good lineup, and luckily they hit it at our guys and they were making the plays.”

Saunders, coming off a 5-3 win at Colorado, has won consecutive starts for the first time since late July. But his 3.83 ERA indicates that he’s been pitching better than his won-lost record would otherwise suggest.

“On a personal level, there have been a lot of peaks and valleys,” Saunders said. “There was a big valley to start the year, and I’ve been treading pretty much uphill the whole time, just to get back to where I can be. I can’t take back my 0-5 start, but you make up for lost time and do the best you can. So my goal right now is just to finish strong and keep our lead where it’s at going into the postseason.”

The Dodgers loaded the bases in the ninth, when Alberto Castillo(notes) hit pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr.(notes) with a 2-2 pitch after Bryan Shaw(notes) gave up a pair of two-out singles. But J.J. Putz(notes) retired Dee Gordon(notes) on a grounder to get his 39th save in 43 chances.

Ted Lilly(notes) (9-14) was charged with three runs, three hits and three walks in 5 1-3 innings. He did not allow a hit until Ryan Roberts(notes) lined a 3-2 pitch over the head of third baseman Aaron Miles(notes) with one out in the fifth.

“He threw the ball well, but nothing seemed to work out tonight,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “It’s frustrating.”

The Diamondbacks finally broke through in the sixth, grabbing a 5-1 lead and chasing Lilly. Willie Bloomquist(notes) led off with a bloop single and came all the way around on Aaron Hill’s(notes) double into the left-field corner. After an intentional walk to Justin Upton(notes), Hill got a huge jump on Lilly and stole third.

That was all for the left-hander, who departed after 101 pitches with a 1-1 count on Paul Goldschmidt(notes). The rookie lined Matt Guerrier’s(notes) first pitch to left for an RBI single, and Roberts chased Guerrier with another run-scoring single with the bases loaded after a walk to Chris Young.

Parra greeted Scott Elbert(notes) with a two-run single inside third base, capping the rally. He added a two-run double in the eighth against Mike MacDougal(notes).

The Dodgers, beginning their final homestand of the season, took the lead with Kemp’s two-out homer. It was his 33rd of the season and it increased his RBI total to 108—the most by a Dodger in both categories since 2004, when Adrian Beltre(notes) had 48 homers and 121 RBIs.

“He’s a good hitter, so what are you going to do? I tried to make some pitches against him and they missed, so I had to come over the plate,” Saunders said. “It was a good pitch, I thought, but he’s a strong guy and he’s got good pop the opposite way. But it only counts as one.”

NOTES: Parra also had four RBIs on July 26, 2009, against Pittsburgh. … Saunders’ most troublesome inning this season has been the first, having given up 19 runs and seven homers. The same is true over his career—117 runs and 25 homers. … Miguel Montero(notes) was 0 for 3, ending his 18-game hitting streak. … The Diamondbacks posted their major league-leading 43rd comeback victory. … NL Cy Young Award contender Ian Kennedy(notes) will oppose Chad Billingsley(notes) on Tuesday night, attempting to join Randy Johnson(notes), Curt Schilling and Brandon Webb(notes) as the only 20-game winners in Diamondbacks history.

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