PHOENIX -- Two of the top six hurlers in National League ERA met on Monday, when Lance Lynn came in with a 1.60 mark while Joe Saunders boasted an ERA of 1.24.
But despite an inflated final score with the D-backs scoring six times off the Cardinals' bullpen, only Lynn lived up to his billing while Saunders exited with an ERA more than a full run higher (2.50) than when he first stepped on the mound.
In his shortest start since Game 4 of the 2011 NL Division Series against the Brewers, Saunders surrendered six earned runs on nine hits and three homers in 3 1/3 innings while the D-backs came up short of a seven-run comeback and lost their third straight game, 9-6, to the Cardinals at Chase Field.
"He didn't get the ball where he wanted it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "We had our opportunities, but we weren't able to hold them down enough tonight."
Trailing, 7-0, the D-backs mounted a six-run rally in the sixth inning off the Cardinals' bullpen with the first seven batters of the frame reaching base. The momentum, however, came to an abrupt end when Bryan Shaw gave up back-to-back homers in the seventh to again put the D-backs in a multi-run hole.
"It would've been nice to have it at one run still, but we didn't think we couldn't come back," infielder Cody Ransom said. "We know we can score runs, we just scored six. We didn't do it, so we come back tomorrow."
Saunders allowed a combined five earned runs over 36 1/3 innings in his first five starts of the season before getting hammered Monday.
"Some nights you have it, some nights you don't, and I didn't have it," he said. "Left some balls up and paid for it. It's a bad start, turn the page. I had five good starts before this one."
On the other side, Lynn delivered a dominant performance, scattering three hits over five scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 1.40. He exited the game early because of a high pitch count at 91, but Lynn earned his Major League-leading sixth win.
"I thought we had several opportunities against him," Gibson said. "He didn't really have very good location. We ran his pitch count way up there. His ball moves a lot, and he's 6-0, so he's doing something right, but he's had some pretty good support as well."
Through 30 games, the D-backs sit two games below .500. Last season's NL West winners were also 14-16 and eventually dropped to 15-22 before winning 15 of their next 17 contests.
A bright spot Monday for the D-backs once again was the play of Ransom. He contributed in the field with a defensive gem up the middle and also connected for a two-run homer into Friday's Front Row in the upper deck of left field, a shot estimated at 452 feet that set off the six-run sixth.
"I got a good pitch to hit," Ransom said. "The guy got behind 2-0 and I got a ball over the plate. I put a pretty good swing on that one. It was warm tonight, the ball was carrying pretty good."
The 36-year-old has four home runs with 12 RBIs in 10 games since being called up from Triple-A Reno.
"He's done a great job," Gibson said. "It's been hard to take him out of the lineup, no doubt. He's on a roll, we need to get more guys on a roll."
Before Monday, Saunders hadn't given up three runs in an entire outing this season. That changed in a hurry as the Cardinals jumped on the lefty to score three times in the first inning.
Rafael Furcal highlighted the action by leading off the game with the first of five Cardinals home runs.
In the bottom of the frame, the D-backs wasted a prime opportunity to cut into the deficit. Gerardo Parra hit a leadoff triple but was stranded with Lynn striking out the side.
"I'm getting a little frustrated recently with those opportunities," Gibson said. "We were unable to get that run. It would've been good to get it."
The Cardinals extended their advantage to 5-0 in the third inning when Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday hit back-to-back homers to nearly the same part of left field.
"It was a pretty good display of power," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Obviously the ones we got later were a lot more valuable than we thought they would be. They put a good push on us, but we kept having some pretty good at-bats. It's good to see that fight."
The Cardinals knocked Saunders out of the game in the fourth with the bases loaded and one out. Brad Ziegler replaced the lefty and walked the first batter he faced to force in another run before inducing a double play to end the inning with the D-backs trailing, 7-0.
The D-backs sent the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Lyle Overbay struck out and Aaron Hill grounded out to end the game.