But with the drop of a dime, the D-backs watched their lead fizzle away as the Reds posted seven unanswered runs to steal the finale of a four-game series, 7-6, at Great American Ball Park.
"You expect to win that game, for sure," said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. "That's tough. [The Reds] have done it before. They're very resilient."
After a 46-minute rain delay, the game got under way. Someone should have told the Reds.
Saunders retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced, with just two walked sprinkled in.
His no-hit bid didn't end until the fifth on a bloop single to left field by Devin Mesoraco, but the lefty didn't face any trouble until in the sixth.
Pitching behind a seemingly safe 6-0 lead against a sluggish-looking Cincinnati club, Saunders surrendered back-to-back singles to leadoff man Drew Stubbs and shortstop Wilson Valdez to start the sixth.
Three pitches later, Saunders jammed Brandon Phillips with a 90-mph fastball that the Reds' second baseman turned on and sent 428 feet down the line in left and over the wall for the Reds' first runs of the game.
"I made a good pitch to Phillips and he kept the ball fair," Saunders said. "I don't know how he did it. It was a good pitch. Against him, it's got to be in or missing. Maybe he was cheating inside or looking inside, but even if he does do that, it's tough to keep fair and he did it. You just tip your cap and move on."
It was just the fourth hit by a Cincinnati hitter, but cut Arizona's lead to 6-3.
Saunders was pulled after six innings, allowing three runs on four hits, walking three and striking out five.
Bryan Shaw replaced Saunders to start the seventh, but couldn't escape the D-backs' problems. He recorded one out, but walked pinch-hitter Xavier Paul and Stubbs consecutively on eight pitches, kick-starting the Reds' eventual winning rally.
"You can't come in and walk two guys on eight pitches. That's just totally unacceptable," Gibson said. "Not that he's trying to, but in all honesty, Shaw has struggled a lot lately walking guys when he's come into games. It's something that's going to have to be looked at."
After a brief mound visit, Shaw remained in as Arizona's struggles continued.
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt misplayed a routine grounder by Valdez, allowing Paul to score and putting two runners in scoring position.
"It's a play I've got to make and I wasn't able to make it," Goldschmidt said. "Looking back on it, I probably tried to rush it and in the back of my head tried to turn a double play when I really just need to field that ball and get one out. It's a play that has to be made and it [is unfortunate] when it costs you the game."
The error would prove costly, as Phillips continued his big day, knocking a two-run double to center to tie the game.
Todd Frazier plated Phillips two batters later on a single to left, giving the Reds the lead for good.
"That was pretty fun," Frazier said. "Especially in the beginning there, we were a little dead. We couldn't really put anything together. Brandon was the spark plug and got us going."
It was a tough loss to stomach, but it wasn't all bad news for the D-backs.
After struggling to find any offense in Chicago, Arizona scored five or more runs in three of the four games in Cincinnati, and all but one D-backs starter managed a base hit Thursday. Henry Blanco drilled a two-run shot, Aaron Hill added a solo blast and an RBI single, Chris Young laced an RBI double and Goldschmidt collected an RBI single.
"We've just got to keep fighting," Goldschmidt said. "We did some good things, [we] just weren't able to get the win today."
The D-backs return to Arizona for a 10-game homestand starting Friday against the Padres, then head to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers and cap off their slate of 20 games in 20 days.