Mike Zunino broke a 1-1 tie with a big homer and Edwin Diaz survived a shaky ninth inning.

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There’s something admirable in the blind optimism with which Mike Zunino steps into the batter’s box.

The Mariners catcher endured a hellish 2015, confidence bleeding away as his batting average dropped ever further below .200. Zunino has made positive strides since a lengthy stint with Class AAA Tacoma earlier this year, but he’s still managing hits only every fifth at-bat or so.

Yet night after night, game after game, he digs in and takes swings of belief.


Oakland @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports

His team finds itself adopting a similar stance in the American League wild-card race. Baltimore’s consecutive victories in Toronto have left Seattle treading water with little time left.

So it was fitting it was Zunino who finally broke the deadlock between the M’s and Oakland in the bottom of the seventh, a high-arching solo shot for the go-ahead spark in Seattle’s 3-2 victory over Oakland on Thursday at Safeco Field.

“When you go through that — obviously, there are ups and downs in this game — when you go through that and finally get a pitch to hit on a pitch you’ve been struggling with, it’s reassuring,” Zunino said.

The Mariners (85-74) now sit two games back of both Baltimore and Toronto in the wild-card standings with Detroit in-between with three games left. It’s still an unlikelihood they’ll make the playoffs, but for them at least it’s not the near impossibility had they lost.

“We’re still kicking,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We live to fight another day. A gutsy performance from all our guys.”

Seattle starter Ariel Miranda was steady, if not quite as flashy as the gold chain that periodically popped out of his navy-blue uniform. The lefty lasted 51/3 innings, scattering four hits and allowing just one run, striking out six without walking a batter.

Miranda departed to applause with the score knotted at 1-1 in the top of the sixth, Chad Pinder’s first career home run having answered an earlier run-scoring single from Seattle’s Leonys Martin.

The M’s squandered a chance to regain the lead in the bottom half of that inning when Nelson Cruz legged out an infield single and Adam Lind worked a walk. Two on, two out, Martin lined out sharply to right.

A pair of Mariners shared credit for Oakland’s wasting of Danny Valencia’s leadoff single in the seventh. First, shortstop Ketel Marte made a fantastic diving stop deep in the hole, throwing across his body to get the lead runner at second.

Steve Cishek later trotted out of the bullpen with runners on the corners and one out, getting Max Muncy to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.

Zunino stepped to the plate in the bottom half of the seventh, dug in his back foot, took a confident swing and made solid contact.

“Good for Mike,” Servais said. “The strikeouts bug him as much as they bug anybody. … That was huge. I’m really happy for him. He got all of that one.”

For a minute, it looked as if the Mariners would build upon the lead Zunino staked them.

Marte and Norichika Aoki both reached via infield hits, only for the heart of the lineup to go down in order.

Cishek tossed another solid inning of relief in the top of the eighth before Marte pitched in an insurance run with a two-out single in the bottom half of the eighth. Seattle would need it.

Closer Edwin Diaz surrendered a run and worked out of danger in a ninth inning of bated breath, striking out Yonder Alonso and Muncy with runners on the corners to end the game.

“It’s tough,” Diaz said. “I need to control my emotions. Try to control my pitches, try to get the team a win, give us a chance to make the playoffs.”

Seattle has a chance — a slim one, but a chance nonetheless.

That’s why you step into the box.

AL wild-card race
Top two teams face off in the postseason:
Team W-L GB
Toronto 87-72
Baltimore 87-72
Detroit 85-73
Seattle 85-74 2
The final four
Remaining schedules for the leading contenders for the AL’s two wild-card berths:
Teams W-L Friday Saturday Sunday Monday
Toronto 87-72 at Boston(92-67) at Boston(92-67) at Boston(92-67)
Baltimore 87-72 at N.Y. Yankees(83-76) at N.Y. Yankees(83-76) at N.Y. Yankees(83-76)
Detroit 85-73 at Atlanta(66-92) at Atlanta(66-92) at Atlanta(66-92) vs. Cleveland(91-67) if nec.
Seattle 85-74 vs. Oakland(67-92) vs. Oakland(67-92) vs. Oakland(67-92)