It is a harsh reality that the Mariners have reached the final weekend of their season in a position where they can win and still lose ground.
Mike Zunino’s leadoff homer in the seventh inning Thursday night lifted the Mariners to a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics on a cool night at Safeco Field.
But the bigger chill came a few hours earlier from Toronto, where Baltimore rolled to a 4-0 victory over the Blue Jays. That pulled the Orioles into a tie with Toronto atop the American League wild-card standings.
More important to the Mariners, it means they trail both teams by two games with just three games left in the season. The Mariners are also one-half game behind Detroit, which had a rainout against Cleveland.
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But the Mariners are still alive.
Barely, maybe, but alive.
Zunino had been mired in an extended slump, but he turned on a 97-mph fastball from reliever Liam Hendriks (0-4) and drove it 379 feet to left field for his 12th homer of the season.
When Ketel Marte followed with a bunt single by popping the ball over Hendriks’ head, the Athletics went to the bullpen for Sean Doolittle as the Mariners’ lineup turned over.
Nori Aoki’s bunt single moved Marte to second before the Mariners’ attack turtled. First, Franklin Gutierrez, pinch-hitting for Seth Smith, struck out. Then Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz flied out.
All of that came after Danny Valencia opened the top of the inning with a single to right against Dan Altavilla.
The Mariners got a force at second when shortstop Ketel Marte cut down Valencia from deep in the hole after fielding Brett Eibner’s grounder, but Yonder Alonso moved Eibner to third with a broken-bat single to right.
Steve Cishek replaced Altavilla after the Athletics sent sending up Max Muncy to bat for Jake Smolinski. Cishek won the exchange when Muncy grounded into a double play.
Cishek (4-6) pitched a one-two-three eighth inning before the Mariners added an insurance run in the eighth inning on Marte’s two-out single against Ryan Madson.
Edwin Diaz wobbled through the ninth inning before collecting his 18th save in 21 chances by pitching a scoreless ninth.
Ryon Healy led off with a single to right and went to third on Khris Davis’ double to left. Diaz struck out Valencia, but pinch-hitter Bruce Maxwell grounded an RBI single through the left side.
Diaz held on, though. He stranded runners at first and third by striking out Alonso and Muncy.
The Mariners opened the scoring by stringing together three straight two-out hits in the fourth inning — and then ran themselves out of a chance for a additional runs.
Kyle Seager reached on a squibber up the first-base line when Oakland starter Kendall Graveman couldn’t make a clean pickup. Adam Lind followed with a liner into center that move Seager to second.
Leonys Martin then yanked a hard grounder through the right side. Seager scored easily as Lind moved to third — but Martin kept running toward second.
When Oakland easily trapped Martin between bases, Lind broke for the plate. First baseman Yonder Alonso threw to the plate, and Lind was out by a mile.
So the Mariners settled for a 1-0 lead.
Oakland pulled even on rookie Chad Pinder’s leadoff homer in the sixth inning against Mariners starter Ariel Miranda. It was Pinder’s first career homer, and it came in his 53rd plate appearance.
Marcus Semien followed with a single. Miranda retired the next hitter, Stephen Vogt, on a foul pop before the Mariners went to the bullpen for Drew Storen.
Miranda exited after 78 pitches. He have up one run and four hits, while striking out six and walking none. Storen retired the next two hitters.
The Mariners roughed up Graveman for eight runs and 12 hits over five innings on Sept. 10 in a 14-3 romp in Oakland. This was a different guy.
Graveman gave up one run in the fourth before exiting with two outs and runners at first and third in the sixth inning. He had thrown 108 pitches when replaced by Liam Hendriks, who retired Martin on a fly to left.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Leonys Martin’s decision to keep running toward second base after his two-our RBI single in the fourth inning was…puzzling.
Martin got trapped in a rundown before Adam Lind broke for the plate and was thrown out. Instead of the Mariners having a first-and-third threat, the inning was over.
STAT PACK: The Mariners, at 85-74, finally climbed 11 games over .500. They reached 10 over on five previous occasions: 28-18, 66-56, 67-57, 78-68 and 83-73. Each time, they lost the next game.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners