A little closer.
The Mariners moved up another notch Friday night in the American League wild-card standings by holding on for for a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
Mike Zunino and Nori Aoki hit homers, and Hisashi Iwakuma broke a personal four-game losing streak by pitching into the seventh inning before the bullpen protected the one-run lead over the final seven outs.
"It’s a lot of fun," Zunino said. "That’s the biggest thing that (manager Scott Servais) is preaching to everybody — to have fun. There’s still quite a bit of baseball left.
"The message is we don’t have to be perfect. We can just go out and play good baseball and let everything handle itself."
The Mariners could have made it easier on themselves by cashing a few more opportunities, but it’s September, they’re trying to stay alive in the postseason race and, well, they did enough.
By winning for the fourth time in five games, the Mariners improved to 73-68 and pulled to within 3 1/2 games of Baltimore and Detroit in the race for the AL’s final wild-card berth.
They have 21 games remaining.
"We’ve just got to keep winning series," Servais said, "and hope run into one with a sweep. I’d love to get off this (six-game) trip, get back home, and be in a really good spot and make those games exciting.
"That’s what we’re shooting for."
This was the first game in the trip, and it started well. The Mariners took a 2-0 lead by scoring single runs in the first and third innings against Oakland starter Daniel Mengden.
The second run came on Nori Aoki’s second homer of the season on a drive to right field. It also came in his first start since his Sept. 6 recall from Triple-A Tacoma.
"I knew it was going to be an extra-base hit," Aoki said, "but the fence is high there. So I wasn’t sure. It’s tough (not playing regularly). I’m hitting more (in pre-game drills) and working out more."
Oakland broke through against Iwakuma (15-11) on three singles in the fifth inning, but the Mariners countered with Zunino’s towering leadoff homer in the seventh against reliever Daniel Coulombe.
The Athletics knocked out Iwakuma on Bruce Maxwell’s two-out RBI later in the seventh. It was Maxwell’s third hit of the game.
Dan Altavilla replaced Iwakuma and held the lead by retiring Joey Wendle on a fly to right. Steve Cishek worked a one-two-three eighth inning despite going to a full count on each hitter.
Edwin Diaz then closed out the victory for his 14th save in 15 chances. The bullpen finished the game with seven straight outs.
"It’s really nice when we can give them a lead and have them hold it," Zunino said. "We haven’t been able to do that too often lately. It’s either been a high-scoring game or we’ve been down.
"Dan did a great job of shutting that inning down. Then, obviously, getting it to Cishek and Eddie is always nice."
Iwakuma gave up two runs in 6 2/3 innings in winning for the first time since an Aug. 13 victory over the Athletics here at the Coliseum. His 15th victory matched a career high.
"We all play to be able to play in the playoffs," he said. "As a starter, I only pitch one game every five days. So when it’s that day, you want to give it all you’ve got. I was able to do that today."
The Mariners had chances for some big innings against Mengden, who threw 100 pitches in just five innings. But they stranded five runners in the first three innings and finished 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
"We got off to a pretty quick start," Servais said, "and then we kind of faded offensively. So we really needed the pitching tonight. Everybody stepped up."
The Mariners opened the scoring in the first inning when Nelson Cruz capped a 13-pitch at-bat by lining a two-out RBI double off the right-field wall.
Cruz fouled off six full-count pitches before jumping a 94-mph fastball. Mengden (1-7) limited the damage to one run but needed 35 pitches to get through the inning.
Aoki’s homer in the third inning made it 2-0, but Oakland closed to within 2-1 with three singles in the fifth inning — a one-out bloop and, with two outs, a pair a seeing-eye grounders.
Zunino then led off the seventh inning with a 433-foot homer to center. The Mariners had their two-run lead back at 3-1.
PLAY OF THE GAME: First baseman Adam Lind, a recent standout in the M Games, showed closing speed in making a catch on Ryon Healy’s pop deep into foul ground for the first out in the seventh inning.
Lind’s skill in the M Games was the ability to catch launched water balloons without dropping them. He displayed similar soft hands in making a sweep grab on Healy’s pop.
PLUS: Nelson Cruz is batting .392 (20-for-51) this season against Oakland…Robinson Cano went 1-for-3 with a walk and has reached base safely at least once in 13 straight games. He is batting .375 (18-for-48) in that span…Hisashi Iwakuma in 4-0 with a 3.12 ERA this season in four starts against the Athletics.
MINUS: Kyle Seager, Leonys Martin and Ketel Marte were each hitless in four at-bats.
STAT PACK: Mike Zunino became the ninth Mariners to reach double figures in homers when he got No. 10 while leading off the seventh inning against Athletics reliever Daniel Coulombe.
The nine players in double figures tied a franchise record.
The other eight this year: Nelson Cruz (35), Robinson Cano (32), Kyle Seager (27), Adam Lind (20), Leonys Martin (14), Franklin Gutierrez (14), Dae-Ho Lee (14) and Seth Smith (13).
The only other player with more than two homers is Chris Iannetta, who has seven.
QUOTABLE: Manager Scott Servais on summoning rookie Dan Altavilla with the tying run at second base in the seventh inning: "He’s throwing the ball really well. He hasn’t gotten great results all of the time. He did tonight.
"He’s able to move his fastball around a little bit. I like his breaking pitch. I think he’s going to have a nice future in the big leagues."
SHORT HOPS: The Mariners are 24-25 in one-run games…They are also 33-37 on the road and 28-33 against American League West opponents, but they have an 8-5 edge in the season series against the Athletics with six games remaining between the two teams.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners