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Paul Konerko sees White Sox’ 4-3 loss to Indians as playoff prep

Paul Konerko’s solo homer ninth brought Sox close but not close enough. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Paul Konerko’s solo homer in the ninth brought the Sox close but not close enough. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: November 29, 2012 8:13PM

Paul Konerko’s glass is neither half-full nor half-empty.

He’s not an optimist nor a pessimist. He’s just a voice of reason in the White Sox’ clubhouse who usually can be called on for perspective. So when he talks after a tough, one-run loss that went down to the last at-bat — like Tuesday afternoon’s 4-3 setback to the last-place Cleveland Indians — it’s worth a listen.

‘‘The good news is, if we get through it and get there, you feel comfortable in the playoffs,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘That was the way back in ’05 [when the Sox won the World Series]. We had a lot of games like that down the stretch, and when we got to the playoffs, you feel battle-tested and ready for those.’’

Playoffs? Despite the defeat, the Sox knew they would be either in first place in the American League Central by a full game or tied with the Detroit Tigers with eight to go depending on the Tigers’ outcome against the Kansas City Royals later Tuesday. (The Tigers won 2-0.) Even though they’ve been in first place since July 24, it feels like finishing there will be one valiant chore. That will happen when you’ve lost six of your last seven games and are 10-13 in the meaningful games of September.

‘‘Obviously, the hard part is getting there first,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘Today was not a step in the right direction. It was a tough game. We showed some heart to battle back, but at this point of the season you need the victories.’’

In keeping with the Sox way — home runs or bust — Konerko lined Indians closer Chris Perez’s first pitch of the ninth inning into the Sox bullpen to cut the Indians’ lead to 4-3. A.J. Pierzynski and Dayan Viciedo hit back-to-back homers in the fifth against Indians starter Corey Kluber (2-4) after Sox starter Francisco Liriano (6-12) had fallen in a 4-0 hole. Perez issued two more walks but no more hits.

About 15 hours after Adam Dunn hit maybe the biggest pair of homers in his 406-HR career to ignite the Sox’ biggest win of the season, the buzz left U.S. Cellular Field and its crowd of 13,797 when the Indians grabbed a 4-0 lead with three runs in the third against Liriano.

Russ Canzler, who homered in the second, doubled Carlos Santana (leadoff walk) to third to put the Indians in business in the fourth. After former Sox Brent Lillibridge walked to load the bases, Thomas Neal hit a potential inning-ending double-play grounder to second baseman Gordon Beckham, but Beckham’s feed to shortstop Alexei Ramirez was just low enough to prevent Ramirez from getting off a strong relay.

Neal was safe on an either-way call, a run scored, and RBI singles by Ezequiel Carrera and Shin-soo Choo built the lead to 4-0.

‘‘Not good,’’ said Beckham, who has been exceptional at turning double plays and has played Gold Glove-caliber defense.

He had a chance to bury that play when he came up in the ninth after Perez had walked pinch hitter Dan Johnson and Ramirez and the Sox trailed by one. But he hit a ground ball that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera stabbed behind the bag and turned into a game-ending forceout.

‘‘It happens,’’ Pierzynski said. ‘‘You have to get the next guy. We didn’t do that, and it led to two more runs. That’s it. I didn’t see a replay, but I know it was close.’’

‘‘Close’’ is the word for this AL Central race that has seemed destined to go down to the last series in Cleveland next week.

‘‘I hope we clinch before that,’’ Konerko said. ‘‘But now we have to assume we’re going to walk in here [Wednesday] even, which is fine, and be ready to fight.’’

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