"On the whole, I would probably look at it as a positive," Dunn said. "It's also one of the most frustrating because we had a legit opportunity to make it to the playoffs and we just didn't have enough at the end."
Wednesday's victory finished the White Sox season at 85-77 and 40-41 on the road. Gavin Floyd (12-11) earned the victory with seven shutout innings, while Dan Johnson, Paul Konerko and Dayan Viciedo supplied the offensive firepower.
Konerko's blast during a four-run fifth was his 26th and marked his 12th year with at least 75 RBIs. Johnson proved once against to be "Mr. Game 162," as he followed up his dramatic ninth-inning homer with the Rays against the Yankees on the last day of the 2011 regular season with three long blasts and five RBIs in far less dramatic fashion.
Viciedo hit a solo homer in the ninth off Vinnie Pestano, followed by Johnson's third blast off the night.
Those were the answers to the question as to how the last game of this season played out. The more pressing ongoing questions deal with the important inactive players on this night.
Pierzynski is set to become a free agent, while the White Sox hold a $22 million option on right-handed hurler Jake Peavy and a $13 million option on Youkilis that they don't figure to pick up. It doesn't mean the White Sox have ruled out bringing back either of these players, along with potential free agents such as reliever Brett Myers and Floyd, who has a $9.5 million club option for 2013.
"I've been here in Chicago a while and it would be nice to stay here. It's really up to them," Floyd said. "We get along very well and feel comfortable here and love the city and even the coaching staff. It's been a blessing to be around them and it's just nice. We'll see what happens."
All of the right things were being said by all sides on this chilly evening in Cleveland. But the White Sox just don't know at this point who will fit into their future financial mix.
"It's too early to speculate right now," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "Too much to go through."
"Every decision I make from here on out is through my family," said Youkilis, who hit .236 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs in 122 games for the White Sox. "The whole thing is a business. Sometimes it's out of your control. So, that's part of the game and I learned that this year. I've enjoyed it, I've had a lot of fun. It's great for my family in Cincinnati to come up and watch. But the future? Who knows what's going to happen?"
Manager Robin Ventura and his full staff will be back in 2013, barring managerial interest put forth by another organization for some of his coaches. The first-year manager will enter Spring Training with a better understanding of what he has in what turned out be a successful learning experience.
Of course, it's uncertain how many of the players with him for the first year will return for his second. Dunn is one who is certain to be there.
After going through one of the worst individual seasons in Major League history, Dunn put himself in the running for Comeback Player of the Year by slugging 41 homers and driving in 96 runs. He hit just .204 and his 222 strikeouts were the second-highest single-season total behind Mark Reynolds' 223 strikeouts from 2009.
This year's effort represents a return to the stellar form Dunn has shown over the previous 10 years of his career. And with 2012 coming to a close in a positive fashion, maybe Dunn can finally stop talking about 2011.
"I'll always have to answer questions about last year. It's September and I'm still answering questions about last year," a smiling Dunn said. "I want to do something next year so I don't get asked about this year. There's a lot of room for improvement."
Dunn and Rios exit this season first and fifth, respectively, in active games played without reaching the postseason. So that room for improvement spoken of by Dunn counts for the team as much as the individuals, although that was not Ventura's final message to his team.
"Again, effort and sometimes the game is cruel," Ventura said. "It can be hard and everything else and what they brought every day and what they gave the staff is appreciated. You're going with the kind of people you have and the effort you get every day when they come in and you're pleased with that."