Chicago Cubs eke out 1-0 win against New York Mets on perfectly executed relay for game-ending double play

NEW YORK — Miguel Amaya never doubted the out call would stand on a game-ending double relay sequence that required perfect execution.

The Chicago Cubs were on the verge of wasting Shota Imanaga’s stellar seven shutout innings Wednesday night at Citi Field. Taking a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, veteran Héctor Neris plunked Pete Alonso with one out and J.D. Martinez followed with a double to put two in scoring position. Jeff McNeil sliced Neris’ 1-2 elevated fastball to left field, setting up the wild ending.

Ian Happ drifted toward the left-field foul line and realized he didn’t get behind the ball well enough to attempt a throw home. His instincts kicked in, prompting him to get rid of it as quickly as possible to Nick Madrigal, who was positioned near third base ready to uncork a throw to Amaya.

Amaya anchored himself at home plate, making sure to leave an open path as he watched the play develop. Alonso appeared to beat Madrigal’s throw, however, his hand popped up and didn’t touch the plate until after Amaya tagged him for the game-ending double play and a 1-0 Cubs victory.

Home plate umpire Charlie Ramos’ out call set off a celebration in the Cubs’ dugout and on the field. A roughly four-minute replay review followed to determine whether Amaya blocked the plate and if Alonso got his hand down before the tag. The emotions among the Cubs varied during the delay.

“Not great, didn’t love it,” Happ said with a grin.

“It’s a very hard moment and I’m anxiously waiting, all you want is the out,” Neris said.

“There’s probably 20 replays out there and I thought for most of them, he was safe and then you see his hand pop up on a different angle,” Madrigal said. “I thought for sure he was out, but I thought the whole time we weren’t gonna get it.”

Added Amaya: “I was 100% sure … and they made the right call.”

MLB’s replay center issued a statement on the ruling, saying “after viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that no violation of the home plate collision rule occurred. The catcher’s initial setup was legal and he moved into the lane in reaction to the trajectory of the incoming throw.”

Mets manager Carlos Mendoza was frustrated by the ruling and emphatically told reporters Amaya should not have been allowed to stand on home plate before receiving the throw. Alonso took a more diplomatic perspective on the final play.

“Initially, as it happened, I thought I stuck my hand in there, but the call said I was out, so I was out,” Alonso told reporters. “I mean, I laid it out there and they made a great throw and a great tag.”

Matt Mervis’ leadoff double in the fifth inning led to the game’s only run, as he scored on Pete Crow-Armstrong’s sacrifice fly off Mets starter José Buttó.

“We’re still finding ways to win even though we’re not clicking all the way offensively, that’s what great teams do is grind it out,” Madrigal said. “We’ll come around, it’s only a matter of time, but it’s a special thing about this team. We’ve got to give a lot of credit to the pitchers keeping us in the game.”

The defensive heroics salvaged the Cubs’ win following Imanaga’s shutdown performance.

Imanaga scattered three hits over seven innings, walked one batter and struck out seven. The Mets couldn’t solve his fastball, which produced seven called strikes and five whiffs, or his splitter which generated nine whiffs on 20 swings. His 0.78 ERA is the lowest ERA by any Cubs starter through the first six starts of a season since 1920 (minimum of 20 innings). Only three others in that span recorded an ERA under 1.00: Jake Arrieta (0.84 in 2016), Dick Ellsworth (0.86 in 1963) and Johnny Schmitz (0.98 in 1947).

“We pitched super, super well and then having a defensive play to win the game so it says it was a clean game on our end and kudos to the pitching staff again,” manager Craig Counsell said.