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Saunders dazzles through 8 2/3 innings

SAN DIEGO -- The D-backs want to grab the National League West title, rather than have someone hand it to them.

They firmed their grip on it Sunday.

Knowing that the surging Giants had a big lead in their game, the D-backs responded with a 5-1 victory over the Padres at PETCO Park to remain five games ahead of the defending World Series champions with nine games to go.

Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero hit home runs in support of Joe Saunders, who picked up his ninth road victory with an 8 2/3-inning gem. Goldschmidt had three RBIs, and Aaron Hill had two of the D-backs' 12 hits, an RBI and a run scored.

"Huge one for us," Saunders (12-12) said after allowing no earned runs. "I told myself, 'Hey, I need to go out there and bring my A game.' Fortunately, the defense was great behind me and we got some clutch hitting."

Arizona (88-65) had lost its previous three games, including two in San Diego, all largely because of a wheezing offense.

Twenty-two innings into the series, Arizona had scored only one run, on Hill's home run Saturday. Frustration among D-backs hitters rose Sunday in the opening three innings, during which they wasted four singles and a walk and saw Padres first baseman Jesus Guzman deny Saunders a double.

The offense needed a boost, and Montero provided it with a home run -- his 17th -- over the center-field wall to tie the score, 1-1, opening the fourth.

Padres pitcher Aaron Harang made Montero earn the run by hitting the ball to a bigger part of San Diego's ballpark.

Fortunately for the D-backs, Goldschmidt also can defeat that tactic, as the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder showed two innings later with an opposite-field drive into the right-field seats for a 2-1 lead.

"How about that ball?" D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said of the 415-foot blast, which, counting the 30 he hit in Double-A, was Goldschmidt's 38th this year. "That was like how Mike Piazza would hit a ball -- bomb."

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson joked that Goldschmidt showed teammate Justin Upton he's the stronger of the two, for an inning earlier Upton's opposite-field drive hit the wall in right-center. The rookie wasn't buying it.

"At home I went off the center-field wall and [Upton] went off the scoreboard -- I would say he's still got me," Goldschmidt said.

Hill's RBI single in the seventh brought in Arizona's first "manufactured" run of the series.

With Hill on third base after Padres left fielder Kyle Blanks let the single get past him, San Diego manager Bud Black opted to walk Montero and bring up Goldschmidt with one out.

Goldschmidt, facing rookie Brad Brach, responded with sharp single to left that made it 4-1. He added a sacrifice fly in the eighth as the D-backs added some insurance.

J.J. Putz relieved Saunders with two outs in the ninth inning and stranded two Padres to get his 41st save.

If the D-backs hold off the Giants, Saunders seems likely to start the third game of the NL Division Series. The lefty is one of the hotter starters in the league, having gone 4-1 with a 2.12 ERA in his last five starts, and his backers include Towers, who said Saunders is responding well to the pressure of a pennant race.

"I think the experience from being with those playoff teams in Anaheim is showing up," Towers said. "He's pitching with a lot of confidence."

It'll take a remarkable turn of events for the D-backs not to win their first NL West title since 2007. Their nine games remaining are all at home, starting with Monday's against the Pirates (68-85), followed by three with the Giants and three with the Dodgers. The Giants, winners of eight games in a row, will open a series at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.

"The Giants are en fuego right now," Saunders said. "It's nice to have the cushion, so we're going to try to keep the cushion." Comments