Epstein the latest to have Soriano's back

CHICAGO -- Add president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to the group of those who weren’t too alarmed that Alfonso Soriano didn’t run hard on a dropped line drive Saturday night.

Soriano was eaten alive by a near sellout crowd in the nationally televised game against the Boston Red Sox after he remained standing at the plate when Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks dropped his scorching line drive.

Middlebrooks was still able to reach down, grab the ball and throw Soriano out at first base with ease. Boos rained down on Soriano immediately from all corners of the ballpark.

“I just think it’s one of those things in baseball where it’s hard from the stands to see exactly what happened on that certain play,” Epstein said Monday. “I like that fans hold our players accountable to play hard and play the game the right way but it’s hard to be on the right side of the line every time with an issue like that.”

Whether Soriano ran right away or not, he hit the ball so hard that it was doubtful he would have been safe anyway. It didn’t seem as if the crowd was as much worried about whether he would beat the throw as they were with the perceived lack of effort.

The contention of manager Dale Sveum, Soriano’s teammates and now Epstein is that Soriano’s reaction was instinctive and would have been duplicated by nearly anybody who could hit a ball as hard as Soriano hit his line drive.

“I think our fans know because they’ve watched Sori play all year that he’s been hustling from Opening Day on and given a great effort,” Epstein said. “It was an unfortunate natural reaction. But I think if you asked our fans to grade out Sori’s hustle on the whole this year he would get very high marks as he does from us.”

Soriano has cooled off offensively, but was scorching hot beginning in the middle of May after a slow start. Starting on May 15, he hit 12 home runs over a 26-day stretch, the most in the major leagues over that time.

“It’s hard to get to know somebody from afar but he’s been an outstanding teammate, worked extremely hard, goes through a lot physically to prepare himself to play on a daily basis and really, really cares about winning and his teammates,” Epstein said. “I’m not sure what more you can ask from that perspective.

“And when he hasn’t performed he’s worked hard to get better and I think you can see that with his defense this year. I wasn’t here last year but watching it on TV I think his defense is much improved. It’s not perfect but it’s much better and that only happens with hard work.”