CHICAGO – Paul Konerko heard the cheers when he was introduced with the starting lineup for the White Sox.
He was greeted with a standing ovation when he came to the plate in the first inning. There was even applause when he fouled out in his only plate appearance.
The response meant a lot to the aging slugger. He just needs some time to decide if he wants to come back.
“We’ll see how I feel in a month or a month and a half from now,” Konerko said after Chicago’s 4-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals, “and try to come to grips with what’s what.”
Konerko’s future is uncertain after he hit .244 with 12 homers and 54 RBIs in one of the worst seasons of his sparkling 17-year career. The 37-year-old first baseman is eligible for free agency and isn’t sure if he wants to play next year at all.
If this was it, he was treated well by the crowd of 22,633 for the final game of a dismal season for the Sox. The team captain was replaced by Conor Gillaspie with one out in the top of the second, and he stopped to shake pitcher Jose Quintana’s hand as he left the field to more cheers.
“It always feels good. The fans here have treated me great over the years,” said Konerko, who tweaked his back during Saturday night’s 6-5 victory, leading to the quick hook in the finale. “In a year like this, they treated me better than probably I deserved, really the whole team when you think about it.”
Konerko waved his hat to the crowd as he made his way to the dugout. With the Royals also standing and clapping on the other side, the six-time All-Star acknowledged the long ovation with a brief curtain call.
“I didn’t want to make a big spectacle out of it,” said Konerko, who is second in franchise history with 427 homers and 1,361 RBIs, and third with 2,249 hits. “There’s no escaping it kind of at the end here when there is some unknown about what’s going to happen.”
Kansas City won three of four in Chicago and went 17-10 in September for its most successful month of the season. The Royals’ 86-76 record was their best mark since they went 92-70 in 1989.
“This team came out every game and expected to win every game regardless of what happened the night before,” said Greg Holland, who got three outs for his 47th save. “We got to grind it out that way; that’s how you get in the playoffs. We came up short but I think going into next spring we’re going to be pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Kansas City left-hander Bruce Chen (9-4) allowed one run and four hits in 6⅔ innings. He went 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 15 starts after he joined the rotation in July.
“I feel like I helped the team in the second half,” Chen said. “I feel like I was a major contributor on a team making a run on the playoffs and it was fun.”
Alexei Ramirez homered for the White Sox, who left seven runners on base. Chicago loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but Holland struck out Gordon Beckham and Marcus Semien to end the game.
It was a fitting end for Chicago (63-99), which had one of the majors’ worst offenses this year. Hitting coach Jeff Manto was let go on Saturday, and the White Sox finished with their most losses since they had a franchise-record 106 in 1970.
“Nobody is happy with losing,” Quintana said. “We obviously didn’t get to the goal as a team, but the positive thing is to learn from it and come back the very next year and see what we can do.”
Quintana (9-7) pitched seven innings to reach 200 for the season. He was charged with four runs and six hits.
The lefty issued two walks, and each of them was costly. Johnny Giavotella got one before Salvador Perez hit his 13th homer in the fourth, and Justin Maxwell got the other before Brett Hayes’ first homer of the year in the seventh.
“It’s a good start. I think we’re making progress as an organization,” said manager Ned Yost, who completed the final season of his contract but is expected to return next year. “Ten games over .500, it’s a significant first step and we need to continue to build on it.”
NOTES: It was Hayes’ first homer since Sept. 21, 2011, for the Marlins against Atlanta. ... Sunday’s crowd brought the season total for U.S. Cellular Field to 1,765,544, an average of 21,833 per game. ... Holland finished with 103 strikeouts, tying Jim York (1971) for the franchise record for a reliever.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap