CHICAGO — Paul Konerko waved his cap to one more adoring crowd. The reserved slugger popped out for a curtain call when the standing ovation just kept going. He lingered on the field after the game, exchanging high-fives with the fans who lined the field to grab one more moment with the retiring star.
At the very end of his 18-year career, Konerko finally realized what he meant to the Chicago White Sox.
"I don't think I would've understood this a year ago - there's a lot of people out there I've impacted over the years here," he said after Sunday's 6-4 loss to Kansas City in his final game.
"I see people crying out there. That's crazy that just because I played a game, I never thought about that stuff. I get, sometimes it's not always about what's comfortable to me, I have to make that happen and go for closure for them as well. It's something they don't teach you in the minor leagues, about this kind of stuff."
Coming into the final day of the regular season, Kansas City was hoping for a one-game playoff on Monday in Detroit for the AL Central title. But the Tigers clinched the division with a 3-0 victory over the Twins, sending the Royals to the wild-card game on Tuesday night against Oakland in their first playoff appearance since 1985.
"When a lot of teams are going home, the elite few get to stay back and play in this tournament, and for the first time in a long time, we've earned the right to play in it," manager Ned Yost said.
Kansas City (89-73) will send James Shields to the mound against Oakland left-hander Jon Lester when it hosts the first game of the 2014 playoffs. The Royals went 5-2 against the Athletics this year, but both of their losses came against Lester.
"It's going to be a fun experience," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
Konerko started at first and played five innings on the final day of his 16-year run with the White Sox. The slugger, who paid tribute to his wife and three children by writing their names in the infield dirt behind the bag, went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.
Konerko went out to first before Kansas City batted in the sixth inning, and then was replaced by Andy Wilkins. He waved his hat toward the visiting dugout, where the Royals were standing and applauding along the top step, and then waved to the standing crowd of 32,266, once again hearing chants of "Paulie! Paulie!"
The 38-year-old Konerko disappeared into the dugout for a brief moment and then came out for a curtain call. He waved to the crowd again and acknowledged the sustained cheers with a bow before retreating back into the dugout, where he received more hugs and congratulations from his teammates.
A six-time All-Star, Konerko finished with a .279 average, 439 homers and 1,412 RBIs.
"This whole thing blew me away," said Konerko, who also was honored by the White Sox before Saturday night's game. "I know I've been here a while and I knew there'd be something at the end that would be commemorating me being here for a while. But this whole thing, the fans and all that last night, I never thought that I was one of those guys that gets that."
Chicago had a 4-2 lead when Konerko departed, but Kansas City responded with three runs in the sixth. Christian Colon, who was activated from the disabled list before the game, hit a tying two-run double off Daniel Webb (6-5) and Carlos Peguero added a tiebreaking RBI single.
Marcus Semien had a two-run homer and a bases-loaded walk for the White Sox (73-89), who dropped five of their final six games.
NICE ROUND NUMBER
White Sox CF Adam Eaton went 3 for 3 before he was replaced in the field before the fifth inning, leaving him with a .300 batting average.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap