Saunders prepared for Game 4 “blackout” start

Photo by Jonathan Willey

By Greg Dillard

The D-backs fought to live another day by winning Tuesday’s Game 3.

Now it’s up to veteran left-hander Joe Saunders to keep Arizona’s postseason dreams alive. The southpaw will toe the rubber Wednesday night for Game 4 of the National League Division Series.

The D-backs faced a 0-2 deficit in the best-of-five series, but claimed the must-win Game 3 last night by a final score of 8-1.

In another must-win matchup, Saunders gets the ball tonight in his first start of the 2011 postseason. It’s sure to be a high-intensity evening as Saunders and the D-backs will be wearing their black uniforms, and Chase Field will be blacked out by fans with black D-backs gear.

Although he hasn’t pitched in this series, Saunders has attentively watched the Brewers’ lineup in each of the series’ first three games.

“It’s always an advantage when you get to see a team for a little bit,” Saunders said. “But you’ve still got to go out there and throw the baseball, and they’ve still got to go out there and hit the baseball. You do your homework, and they do their homework, and you let the chips fall where they may.”

Saunders will undoubtedly have his hands full as he works through the Milwaukee lineup. The Brewers boast a pair of MVP candidates in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.

Braun hit a red-hot .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBI in his fourth consecutive All-Star season. Fielder batted .299 while bashing 38 long balls and driving in 120 runs.

“You look at their lineup and you don’t want any of them to beat you, really,” Saunders said. “They’re kind of built like we are. They’re very similar to us. They’ve got speed. They’ve got guys that put it in play. And they’ve got guys that can hit it out of the ballpark with ease.”

Saunders posted a 12-13 record to go with a 3.69 ERA in 212 innings pitched in his first full season in Arizona. He was acquired from the Angels in July of 2010. Following the move to the desert, Saunders made it a goal to help the D-backs return to their winning ways.

In 2011, Saunders and the D-backs did just that.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Saunders said. “I think everything has a purpose, and everything happens for a reason. So there’s a reason for me coming over here. And I was just fortunate enough to help this organization turn it around.”

It didn’t take Saunders very long to help the D-backs soar to the top of the National League West standings. The team won 94 games and won the division title just one season after finishing in the division cellar.

“I was telling CY in August last year when I got traded over here that, ‘Hey we’re going to turn this thing around next year, and we’re going to string some wins together and really compete in this division.’ And sure enough we did it.”

With the acquisition of Saunders, the D-backs received a polished left-handed starter who experienced plenty of success in Los Angeles. He notched a 54-32 record in his six seasons with the Halos.

Additionally, Saunders owns postseason experience as he and the Angels made several runs to October over the years. He made a start in the 2008 playoff run and then once again in the 2009 ALCS.

Those starts in the playoffs are experiences that Saunders will never forget.

“There’s a ton of adrenaline,” Saunders said. “I remember my first experience, I think I was in Boston, and I just had adrenaline flowing through every inch of my body. And when you do it and you get through it and you realize it’s just another baseball game, you kind of settle in and you kind of try to slow everything down.”

His playoff experiences should bode for Saunders as he looks to keep the D-backs in the 2011 postseason.

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