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Mariners host Athletics with slim playoff hope

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners' slim chances of reaching the postseason took a hit Thursday night, despite their win over Oakland, but they head into a Friday game against the A's with a remaining shred of hope.

Baltimore's win over Toronto gave Seattle (85-74) even less room for error as the Mariners prepare to play their third-to-the-last game of the season trailing the Orioles and Blue Jays by two games in the American League wild-card race.

"We know we have to win," Seattle catcher Mike Zunino said Thursday night. "That's the thing. There's only three left, and if we don't win our games now, nothing else matters."

Seattle did its part Friday night, beating the A's 3-2 despite a shaky ninth inning that saw Mariners closer Edwin Diaz give up three hits and a run before striking out the final two batters to wriggle out of it.

"It's tough," Diaz said of his ninth inning. "I need to control my emotions and give the team a chance to make the playoffs. We're so close."

The A's (67-92) nearly staged a ninth-inning comeback even though they're not playing for anything other than pride.

"It came down to situational at-bats," manager Bob Melvin said after the latest loss.

Oakland will try to regroup behind Friday starter Raul Alcantara, while the Mariners will turn to 24-year-old Taijuan Walker in what could be their final meaningful game of the season.

Seattle needs Toronto and/or Baltimore to lose Friday to still have a chance to win an outright wild-card berth, and the Mariners could be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose and both the Blue Jays and Orioles win. Further complicating things is a Detroit team that had a rainout Thursday and sits between Seattle and the co-leaders in the wild-card standings.

"The way we look at it, we'll play tomorrow's game, and we'll try to win it and pray for a little help," Seattle manager Scott Servais said late Thursday night.

The Mariners have their rotation lined up so that veterans Hisashi Iwakuma (Saturday) and Felix Hernandez (Sunday) will close out the season and could be on the mound for the biggest games of the season. But those two won't be a factor if Walker can't deliver on Friday night.

The 24-year-old right-hander, having opened the season as the No. 2 starter in the rotation before struggling all the way to a stint in Triple-A, has pitched well over his past four starts after changing his mechanics. He's 3-1 since getting shelled in a Sept. 3 loss to the Angels and will be on the mound for the biggest start of his young career Friday.

The Mariners are also looking for more offense, particularly from the middle of their lineup. Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager went a combined 2-for-11 Thursday after carrying the team for most of the season. That group also has a chance to become Seattle's first trio since Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez in 1998 to record 30 home runs and 100 RBI in the same season. Cano is three RBI shy of 100, while Seager needs to drive in one more run to hit that mark.