Diamondbacks 7, Dodgers 2

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 tied a career high with four RBIs to back seven
strong innings by Joe Saunders 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 and reliever Brad Ziegler 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
first-inning homer and an RBI single by rookie Jerry Sands, 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
hit pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. with a 2-2 pitch after Bryan Shaw
gave up a pair of two-out singles. But J.J. Putz retired Dee Gordon
on a grounder to get his 39th save in 43 chances.

Ted Lilly (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 lined a 3-2 pitch over the head of third baseman Aaron
Miles 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 led off with a bloop
single and came all the way around on Aaron Hill’s double into the
left-field corner. After an intentional walk to Justin Upton, 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. The rookie lined Matt
Guerrier’s 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 with a two-run single inside third
base, capping the rally. He added a two-run double in the eighth
against Mike MacDougal.

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 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 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 will oppose
Chad Billingsley on Tuesday night, attempting to join Randy
Johnson, Curt Schilling and Brandon Webb as the only 20-game
winners in Diamondbacks history.