Instead, rookie reliever Jose Alvarez got Zunino to bounce into a double play and the Tigers had withstood Seattle's last significant rally.
"I was just trying to battle and get the ball to the outfield," Zunino said. "I'm sure I saw every pitch he had, and I was keeping myself alive, but I just didn't do what I needed to do. A groundball was the worst thing in the world right there, and they turned two on me."
Zunino's double play in the eighth kept Detroit ahead, and the Tigers added three more runs in the bottom of the inning en route to a 6-2 win over the Mariners on Tuesday night. Seattle twice rallied from one-run deficits, but lost for the eighth time in nine games.
Miguel Cabrera homered for the Tigers, who won despite a short-handed bullpen. Detroit led 3-2 in the eighth but was playing without closer Joaquin Benoit and left-handed reliever Drew Smyly. They were both given the night off.
Detroit's Phil Coke walked two hitters in the eighth, sandwiched around an error by Jose Iglesias at shortstop. Alvarez came on with the bases loaded and got Zunino to hit into the double play.
"Zunino had a great at-bat, but the Tigers just turned a great double play on him," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "He's doing a nice job for us, especially since he understands his priorities right now. He's got a lot on his plate with catching at this level, and he knows that is the most important thing."
Anibal Sanchez struck out 10 in 6 1-3 innings, but the Mariners tied it at 2 against him in the seventh, forcing Detroit's relievers into action.
Al Alburquerque (3-3) got out of the seventh, and Coke and Alvarez made it through the dodgy eighth. Alvarez got two outs in the ninth, and Jose Veras finished.
Yoervis Medina (4-6) took the loss.
Cabrera's 44th homer, an opposite-field solo shot, gave Detroit a 2-1 lead in the sixth, but pinch-hitter Kendrys Morales tied it with an RBI double in the seventh.
Alex Avila led off the bottom of the seventh with his first triple of the year, and after Iglesias was hit by a pitch, Avila was caught in a rundown between third and home on Jackson's grounder.
Avila stayed in the rundown long enough to enable Iglesias to go all the way from first to third, and Torii Hunter's sacrifice fly put the Tigers ahead 3-2.
"We need everybody here on our ballclub," Cabrera said. "I think everybody here stepped up tonight and did their jobs. It's what we need to still win our games, what we need if we go to the playoffs."
Omar Infante added an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, and Austin Jackson's two-run single made it 6-2.
Sanchez allowed six hits. Don Kelly's fourth-inning homer put Detroit ahead 1-0, but Raul Ibanez tied it in the sixth with his 28th homer of the year.
Seattle starter Brandon Maurer pitched five-plus innings, allowing two runs and five hits. He walked two and struck out six.
"I thought Maurer was much better today than he's been," Wedge said. "He's struggled lately, and he was pitching at this time of year against that team, but he didn't let any of that get to him. He kept his emotions in check and did a very nice job."
NOTES: Detroit manager Jim Leyland said DH Victor Martinez will catch Thursday's game. ... Detroit RHP Justin Verlander (13-11) faces Seattle RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6) on Wednesday night.