CHICAGO -- Two teams finished the season with starkly opposite feelings on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field by playing a game that was meaningless in the American League Central Division.
The Kansas City Royals, who topped the Chicago White Sox 4-1 to win their third game of a four-game series, would probably enjoy the season lasting a couple more weeks. They came into the season finale leading the AL in wins following the All-Star break (42) and knowing that an 8-20 month of May is largely all that stood between them and a playoff spot.
After winning six of their final eight series of the season, going 22-12 since Aug. 25 and going 44-32 against the rest of the division, they now feel like it is time to contend for a postseason spot.
"I think we're making progress as an organization," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Ten games over .500 is a significant first step. Now we need to continue to build on it."
Led by starter Bruce Chen (9-4), the Royals (86-76) finished on a high note by polishing off the White Sox (63-99) and winning the season series 10-9 against the AL Central's last-place team. Chen went 6 2/3 innings, allowed four hits, struck out four and worked around three walks to yield just one run and pick up the victory.
Salvador Perez (3-for-4, two RBI) and Brett Hayes each hit two-run homers to highlight the offensive attack against Jose Quintana (9-7), who took the loss despite throwing seven innings and running his total innings count for the season up to 200 for the first time in his career.
"We were going to play hard to the last day of the season," Perez said. "It's a big thing. We (won) 14 or 16 games more than last season. That should be good for us. We're going to work hard in spring training. We want to go to the playoffs pretty soon."
White Sox star Paul Konerko, who is contemplating retirement this offseason, started at first base and hit third. The 37-year old slugger took just one at-bat, popping out, before leaving the field with one out in the second inning to his second standing ovation of the day.
Konerko, however, has not made his mind up yet and was not ready to think about that possibly being his last time playing for the White Sox.
"Definitely in the last month or so, you take some inventory on that stuff," Konerko said. "If you do that too much, unless I know it will be the end, you kind of feel sometimes that it makes you let up a little bit. I tried to stay away from that but I tried to enjoy some of the personal interactions with the guys and people around the team."
Two innings later, the Royals surged ahead 2-0 on a long home run to left field by Perez, who started at first instead of behind the plate and hit third in the batting order. Alexei Ramirez cut it to 2-1 leading off the bottom of the fourth with a solo shot to left, but Chen retired the next eight in a row and nine of the next 10.
Hayes added the Royals' second two-run homer in the seventh -- his first with Kansas City and first in the majors since Sept. 21, 2011 -- to make it 4-1 for Chen, who left it up to the bullpen after walking two with two outs in the bottom of the inning. The Royals' relievers, who own the best ERA in the AL as a group, had no problem finishing it off with Greg Holland working the ninth for his franchise-high 47th save.
Notes: White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before the game that firing former hitting coach Jeff Manto was one of the toughest things he has ever had to do in his career. He also said the position of hitting coach is one of the most difficult in the game. "Those relationships are tough, because you're always in there every day and not everybody's happy," Ventura said. "I don't ever know of a lineup where everybody's doing well at the same time, so it's not for a lack of knowledge or anything else. It's just somebody says it a different way and some people might understand it and take it a different way. That's why that job is so tough. That's why in our game, that position changes a lot." ... Ventura said LHP Chris Sale, LHP Quintana and LHP Hector Santiago are likely his top three options for the starting rotation heading into next year's spring training. ... Ventura also said that aside from Sale starting on Opening Day, almost everything else regarding the offseason is uncertain. "There's a fair chance of anything (happening)," he said. "I think Chris starting next year, Opening Day, is about the most solid thing you can get right now." ... Yost remains unsigned heading into the offseason, but confirmed on Sunday that he'd like to return -- something Kansas City's management would also like to see. Yost will have a promising young roster if he does come back in the same position. "It's all a bright spot," he said. "We like our bullpen, we like our starting pitching and we think that our offensive unit is going to continue to grow and trend upward. We think we're sitting in a pretty good spot to come in next year and compete."