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Arizona Diamondbacks' Cody Ross (7) approaches the batter's box while playing the Oakland Athletics in the second inning of their Cactus League game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Even now, with a Sedona red jersey hugging his shoulders, Cody Ross cringes at the mention of the pool at Chase Field, home of his Arizona Diamondbacks.

As Ross and many of the 2011 Giants watched, the Diamondbacks sprinted to the pool behind the right field wall, raucously celebrating a division championship that all but ended the Giants' hopes of repeating. Eighteen months -- and a brief run with a controversial Boston Red Sox group -- later, Ross is back in the National League West. He's hoping to wipe out those bad memories by being on the other end of a dethroning, the other end of the cannonball celebration.

"I want to jump in the pool now," Ross said Sunday, flashing his perpetual smile. "It's crazy how that works."

Few around baseball seem to think the Diamondbacks can pull it off again. Ross was part of an offseason overhaul of a team that won 94 games two years ago but was an afterthought last season in an N.L. West dominated by the eventual World Series champion Giants and the ever-improving Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the Diamondbacks' backyard, the Giants have spent much of their spring answering questions about the Dodgers, and vice versa.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people that are going to pick us third," Ross said. "But that's where we want them to pick us."


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Ross, not far removed from a star turn with the Giants, is viewed as part of a culture change here in the desert. The Diamondbacks brought in Ross, former A's starter Brandon McCarthy and a slew of veteran reserves, and traded mercurial flamethrower Trevor Bauer. In their biggest -- and most head-scratching -- move, the Diamondbacks sent 25-year-old All-Star outfielder Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves in a deal for third baseman Martin Prado and prospects.

The offseason haul was panned around baseball, as the Diamondbacks seemed to be favoring unquantifiable values over raw talent.

"People say, 'How could you do that?' " Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said. "There are a lot of things that I can't share with the fans or the media about why we do certain things. There's a reason behind it. I like the way our club is right now, I really do. I like the people on the club."

Ross is right in the midst of that mix. He played right field, Upton's old position, and hit fifth Sunday in his first game against his old team. Ross spent 10 minutes signing autographs before the game and received a warm ovation before his first at-bat. If things had worked out differently, Ross said, that ovation might have come with him once again wearing orange and black.

The 2010 NLCS MVP was one of several Giants veterans to fail to live up to expectations in the repeat bid, hitting just .240 with 14 homers. The Giants went in a different direction in the offseason, and Ross switched coasts, joining the Red Sox. While improving his production last season, Ross managed to remain one of the few Red Sox to avoid the infighting and public sniping that typified Bobby Valentine's one season as manager.

"It just kind of blew up," Ross said. "That's how Boston is. It's a tough place to play, and the media is really tough on you when you're going bad."

Ross called his time in Boston "a learning experience" and said he enjoyed the year despite the controversy. Still, he was eager to return to the West Coast and play near his wife and two kids, who live in Scottsdale.

The Giants called early this offseason and viewed Ross as an outfield option if Angel Pagan went elsewhere. Ross, 32, started thinking about a reunion.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind," he said. "But Pagan came to a deal, and rightfully so, because he had an amazing year and great postseason. He deserved it, that's for sure."

After negotiating with several East Coast teams, Ross got a surprising call from the hometown Diamondbacks. It didn't take long for him to put his signature on a three-year, $26 million deal.

Ross believes the Diamondbacks still have what it takes to clinch a poolside celebration. He watched from afar last season and saw a club that felt the pressure of trying to keep the rest of the division at bay, something Ross felt in 2011 while wearing a Giants uniform.

As fans alongside the visiting dugout at Scottsdale Stadium screamed his name Sunday, Ross nodded in the direction of the home dugout and brought up the two division favorites, the Giants and Dodgers.

"I think the pressure might be on the other side now," he said, "and down the road."

  • Hard-throwing right-hander Heath Hembree worked through some trouble to pick up the save Sunday in the Giants' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks. He entered in the ninth inning and gave up a single and a double but, mixing in a biting slider and developing changeup, got out of the inning with just one run scoring.

    "The first couple of guys probably saw too many fastballs," Hembree said.

    "He had great stuff," manager Bruce Bochy said. "With two guys on base, he showed good poise and made good pitches."

  • Bochy said Pablo Sandoval lost 14 pounds from the start of spring training until Saturday, when he left Scottsdale to join Team Venezuela and participate in the WBC. The Giants have given Sandoval and his Venezuelan coaches a conditioning program that the third baseman is to follow during his time away from Scottsdale Stadium.

  • Barry Zito was sharp in the victory, giving up two hits and striking out two in three innings. "It felt better than last time out, that's for sure," Zito said. "The focus was better, the timing was better."

    Bochy said Zito looked "outstanding."

    Brandon Crawford had three hits and scored twice, and Francisco Peguero had three hits and drove in three runs. Brock Bond singled to raise his spring batting average to .444 and also stole a base.

    Buster Posey was hit in the back in his final at-bat but wasn't hurt.

    For more on the Giants, see Alex Pavlovic's Giants Extra blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/Giants. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/AlexPavlovic.

    online Extra
    Shades of Brian Wilson as Heath Hembree notches save in Giants' victory over D'backs. www.mercurynews.com/Giants