The decline and fall of Jon Lester this season has been the single saddest sight to behold of this already sad Red Sox team.

This afternoon, then, is Lester's best, and possibly last, shot at redeeming a team and his own season. Especially after last night's poorly pitched and overall limp 10-3 loss to the Yankees.

It's no exercise in sports hyperbole to equate what Lester does today of being as critical to the Red Sox' playoff hopes as making an actual playoff start.

Arguing against that is like saying a fifth-inning home run doesn't count as much as a walkoff. They all count and Lester's inexplicable inability to pitch like the Lester of old (he's still only 28) this season makes him the best qualified to jump headfirst into the role of stopper and savior.

Right here, right now.

Yankee Stadium is where Red Sox aces used to come every now and then to administer a smackdown of a stacked Bronx Bombers lineup.

That's not to say that Lester has to show up today and strike out 17 as Pedro Martinez did in September 1999 or the next May, when he outdueled Roger Clemens in a 2-0 shutout.