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MCGRATH: Hawks’ playoff run overshadowing Cubs-Sox series

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Updated: May 31, 2013 7:15PM

The last time hockey
upstaged the Crosstown Showdown was nearly three years ago, on June 13, 2010, when the Blackhawks brought the
Stanley Cup to Wrigley Field four nights after securing it by
defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals.

A full house of 40,456 gave coach Joel Quenneville and his champions a standing ovation as they carried the Cup on a triumphant lap around the ballpark, extending a raucous celebration that began within minutes of Patrick Kane’s history-making overtime goal. After a group photo at the pitcher’s mound, Hawks president John McDonough threw out a ceremonial first pitch when captain Jonathan Toews deferred to his boss in recognition of McDonough’s 24 years of service to the Cubs.

A crackling good ballgame followed. The White Sox’ Gavin Floyd and the Cubs’ Ted Lilly matched no-hitters before Alfonso Soriano roped a double down the third-base line for the first hit in the Cubs’ seventh. Chad Tracy followed with an RBI single for the only run of the evening. Lilly took his no-hitter into the ninth, losing it on a leadoff single by Juan Pierre.

The Cubs’ 1-0 victory hardly initiated a turnaround. Manager Lou Piniella walked off the job 10 weeks later, setting in motion a regime change that pushed general manager Jim Hendry out and brought Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in to overhaul Cubs baseball. It’s very much a work in progress.

The first game of the Cubs-Sox series Monday found the Hawks 280 miles away from U.S. Cellular Field. Still, they were a tangible presence as they sought to extend a season that hit a rough patch against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals.

Had the Hawks lost, baseball would have occupied center stage among Chicago’s sports offerings — at least until the Bears started training camp. Whether either team is ready for prime time is open to debate, but there evidently wasn’t much curiosity. The park was barely half-full by the first pitch.

The Sox offer a glimmer of hope, having clawed their way to .500 by winning nine of their last 12 games. They’re in the middle of a middling division, probably on merit — ahead of the disappointing Kansas City Royals and hopeless Minnesota Twins but trailing the surprising Cleveland Indians and imposing Detroit Tigers. General manager Rick Hahn and his lieutenants have to ask themselves if the current roster, plus Gordon Beckham, is capable of better or if it makes more sense to start trading pieces of value in hopes of a better tomorrow.

It’s all about tomorrow for the Cubs, who averted their most dispiriting week of the season by rallying for a victory Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds’ formidable bullpen. Credible starting pitching and the addition of some serviceable major-league talent suggest the Cubs should be better than they were last season, when they lost 101 games, but the ability to score runs and win on the road continues to elude them.

‘‘We’ve got to figure out our road issues,’’ Hoyer said before the game. ‘‘We don’t draw walks, we don’t get on base, we don’t play good baseball on the road. You can’t be a good team or a successful organization doing that.’’

A first-inning sequence was indicative of both teams’ issues. Hard-to-walk Starlin Castro actually walked for the ninth time this season and stole second when Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez was late covering. Soriano followed with a drive off the left-field wall that scored Castro, but Soriano was held to a single after pausing to admire his blast.

Did someone say good baseball?

But even at the Cell, Monday was all about hockey, as Sox manager Robin Ventura acknowledged before the game.

‘‘I think the loudest it will probably be the whole night is if the Blackhawks score,’’ he said.

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