The Red Sox fell into a tie with the Rays for the American League Wild Card on Monday, a scenario that would've been unthinkable a month ago. It's up to left-hander Erik Bedard to stem the damage.
The intrigue in Bedard's outing, which will come opposite Orioles rookie southpaw Zach Britton at Camden Yards, doesn't lie only in his inexperience in these situations, and the September free-fall Boston's trying to snap out of with two games remaining in the regular season. It was with Baltimore that Bedard started his career in 2002, and the O's are the team with which he's spent most of his career.
The intrigue, too, is in the mystery of exactly how strong Bedard feels and how long he can go. Sidelined for much of September because of left knee and left lat injuries, Bedard's last start came 17 days after his previous outing, and he went just 2 2/3 innings. His defense wasn't help, but of his 76 pitches, 51 came in an interminable third inning.
Francona looked at that short outing as more a byproduct of the time off for Bedard. He's pitching on six days of rest this go round.
"Well, he's one start into it," Francona said. "I don't think he ever feels like he wasn't prepared. He knows kind of what he needs and it is a little David Wells-ish, where he doesn't need to go throw a side or a rehab. But I hope what he did will help.
"He got up to 75, 80 [pitches last time]. It probably depends on how you get there. He's getting two extra days. I don't think that will get in the way."
The deepest Bedard has gone in seven starts with the Sox is six innings.
For Britton, he can keep his record at the year above .500 if he avoids a loss, and with a win, he would have six victories in his final seven decisions of the season. Not bad for a pitcher who was demoted mid-season.
"It's important for me to finish strong," Britton said. "It has been a roller coaster. I think I've learned a lot outside the field, in-between starts, what I need to do."
Red Sox: Varitek, Saltalamacchia both hurt
Jason Varitek's right knee was too sore on Monday for him to catch Josh Beckett -- a pitcher he always catches -- after Varitek was hit by a pitch from the Yankees' Ivan Nova on Sunday. Varitek was scratched Monday before the Red Sox fell to the Orioles, 6-3.
"Right now, I'm not going to tell you," Varitek said of how he felt. "We've got two games, I'm not going to really give into what, just going to try to get ready to play."
In the eighth inning, a foul tip caught Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the collarbone. X-rays were negative.
"Yeah. I mean, I want to. I've just got to come to the field, get treatment and throw and see how it feels," Saltalamacchia said. "Pretty sore right now. Hopefully it gets better overnight and come back tomorrow."
Before Monday's game, when Saltalamacchia was still healthy, the Red Sox recalled catcher Luis Exposito, adding a fourth catcher to the team.
J.D. Drew on Sunday returned to the Red Sox after more than two months away because of injury, but because he's a left-handed hitter, he's not likely to start on Tuesday against Britton.
Battling a bothersome left hip and a sports hernia, Kevin Youkilis likely won't return in the final two days of the season. His status for any potential playoff games hasn't been announced, but it would appear that he would not be available in the AL Division Series.
Orioles: Guerrero sets Dominican-born hits record
Vladimir Guerrero's notched his 2,587 career hit in the sixth inning Monday, with a leadoff single off Josh Beckett. That made him the all-time hits leader among Dominican-born players, passing Julio Franco.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter hurt his ankle just before Monday's game, but returned to the dugout quickly after receiving treatment. The injury was announced as minor.
Nick Markakis has recorded at least 180 hits for the fifth consecutive season, an O's record.