SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A different-looking start to the 2021 season ended with a loss Tuesday for the Quad Cities River Bandits.
South Bend scored three times in the bottom of the eighth inning to hand Quad Cities a 7-4 loss at Four Winds Field.
The Cubs’ Delvin Zinn broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run game-deciding double, turning on a fastball that he drove into the left field corner to spoil the River Bandits’ debut as a Kansas City Royals affiliate.
The game was also the first for the former Midwest League teams in the High-A Central League, a new name and a new elevated classification following Major League Baseball’s reorganization of its developmental structure.
A crowd of 2,565 fans ignored blustery 49-degree temperatures to watch in the first game played by either team since the 2019 playoffs prior to the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The impact of the ongoing coronavirus situation was evident.
From social distancing which spread fans out throughout the ballpark, where the first rows of seats remained empty because of a Major League Baseball requirement to create space between fans and players, who are essentially living in a bit of a bubble until the health crisis subsides.
Managers Chris Widger of Quad Cities and Michael Ryan of South Bend wore face coverings as they delivered the lineup cards to facemask-wearing umpires at home plate.
Players in both dugouts spread out as much as they could, those not involved in the game wearing masks as required by Major League Baseball guidelines.
There were no batboys retrieving bats or supplying umpires with new baseballs, another casualty of the ongoing COVID situation.
“Everything is different,’’ Widger said Monday, differences that started in spring training and will continue for at least the short term.
Before arriving in Davenport, Widger said players worked out in shifts during spring training and even now arrive at the ballpark at staggered times to reduce contact.
"There’s no getting to the clubhouse early and spending time around each other," Widger said. "That’s just the way it is. Get in, get your work done and get out."
The majority of River Bandits have been vaccinated for the coronavirus, although under baseball guidelines current protocols will remain in place until 85% of all team personnel are fully vaccinated and two weeks have passed.
At that point, players and coaches with dugout access to games will no longer be required to wear face masks in dugouts or bullpens.
"It’s different, but it is designed to help keep everybody safe and allow us to play the game," Widger said. "That’s what we all want, to be able to play."
Quad Cities battled in its season opener, using a solid start from Angel Zerpa and coming from behind twice before South Bend pulled away in the eighth.
Zerpa scattered three hits over five innings of one-run work, striking out seven batters and walking one.
The River Bandits answered a single run by the Cubs in the bottom of the fourth with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth, tying the game on a Jeison Guzman groundout before Nathan Eaton scored on a passed ball to give Quad-Cities a 2-1 lead.
South Bend tied the game in the sixth on a Bryce Windham sacrifice fly and took a 4-2 lead in the seventh before the River Bandits rallied again.
Vinnie Pasquantino blasted a towering home run to right in the top of the eighth before Quad Cities loaded the bases and Tyler Gentry temporarily tied the game at 4-4 when he scored on a fielder’s choice by John Rave.
Zinn, who had driven in the first of the Cubs’ two runs in the seventh with a sacrifice fly, collected his game-winning hit after Windham and DJ Wilson had reached on walks.