Nation turns its lonely eyes to ... Bedard

BALTIMORE -- Tonight's forecast: gloom.

And that's just the weather (scattered thundershowers, 60 percent chance of rain).

It isn't much better for the Red Sox, who are left with no choice Tuesday but to rely on Erik Bedard, a sore-legged pitcher whose appetite for the big stage has been openly questioned by a former employer, to keep them alive for a playoff spot that never should have been in jeopardy.

Worse, there's a strong possibility that Bedard will not be guided on his perilous journey by Jason Varitek or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, as both Sox catchers suffered freak injuries the past two nights. Varitek was hit in the right knee by a pitch Sunday night, then couldn't answer the bell for Josh Beckett and was last seen limping out of the clubhouse Monday night. Varitek has played countless games throughout his career without acknowledging how beaten up physically he was; the knee must be killing him if he didn't play, and there is little reason to believe that it healed overnight.

Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, took a foul ball off his collarbone Monday night and was sporting a huge lump, making his availability also uncertain. The injury occurred in the bottom of the eighth inning shortly after Saltalamacchia was corkscrewed while striking out with the bases loaded against Orioles closer Jim Johnson.

Being impaled by a foul ball was the final indignity on a night when Saltalamacchia also could not throw out 75-year-old Vladimir Guerrero, who was giddy after setting the record for the most hits by a Dominican player and stealing second base. The surprise attack spurred the Orioles to a four-run rally. That uprising was capped by another non-highlight moment for Saltalamacchia, who could not handle the throw home on Robert Andino's inside-the-park home run.

Even before getting hurt, both Sox catchers showed definite signs of wearing down. That is nothing new for Varitek, 39, who is just 2-for-26 (.077) this month and with the complicity of the Sox pitchers has thrown out just 12 of 85 base stealers (14 percent) this season. As one recent tweeter noted, America doesn't run on Dunkin; it runs on Varitek.

Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, had never caught as many 100 games in a big league season until this year. He, too, is fading, his sour finish raising renewed questions about his suitability as the team's everyday catcher of the future. Saltalamacchia has struck out in almost 40 percent of his September at-bats -- 27 times in 68 ABs -- while walking just once. He also is batting .162 for the month and .217 in the season's second half.

The Orioles stole two bases Monday night, giving Sox opponents 36 stolen bases for the month, most in the major leagues. The Red Sox also have allowed 14 unearned runs this month, second-most in the American League.

So although the pitching staff -- especially the starting rotation (7.26 ERA for the month) -- deserves much of the blame for the team's 6-19 record this month, it has been, as Tim Wakefield noted Sunday, a collective failure.

Manager Terry Francona's revamped lineup, the one designed to give Carl Crawford the chance to wreak the most "havoc," has generated 13 runs in four games, more than half (seven) coming in Sunday night's 14-inning win. Crawford is 3-for-20 (.150), with a run, an RBI and an extra-base hit. David Ortiz hasn't driven in a run in those four games and hasn't homered since Sept. 7. Adrian Gonzalez has one RBI in the new alignment. Jacoby Ellsbury has five RBIs in the past four games; no one else has more than one.

So with the Sox and Tampa Bay Rays tied for the wild-card lead with two games to play for each team, it comes down to Bedard, whose former GM in Baltimore, Jim Duquette, disparaged his reliability.

"He's not a 'spotlight' guy," Duquette told the Boston Herald even before the Sox acquired Bedard at the trade deadline. "And he's not reliable from a health standpoint -- as we've seen. Caveat emptor."

Bedard came back from a 16-day absence because of a strained lat and sore knee last week against the Orioles and lasted just 2 2/3 innings, needing a staggering 51 pitches to record those two outs in the third. The Red Sox will need much more from him Tuesday night.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.