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Lester’s uphill climb

Pitcher needs to give team, himself a boost

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 28, 2012
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NEW YORK — One more loss here, and it will be utter disaster.

So here’s your chance to save the day Jon Lester.

It’s the biggest start he’ll make. It’s the biggest game of the season for this team, because if it loses one more to the Yankees after Friday’s night’s pitiful 10-3 loss, it will lose the series and all the grand plans for the “bold move” at the trading deadline that Larry Lucchino talked about will go up in smoke.

It will signal to general manager Ben Cherington that it’s not worth pursuing a deal because this team may not be worth saving.

Lester could at least throw the team some life support if he comes up with a good outing against CC Sabathia Saturday afternoon.

I know what you’re saying, don’t hold your breath.

Lester is as messed up as he’s ever been. The so-called ace of the staff has been awful. There’s no sense of confidence when he takes his turn and it’s sad for a 28-year-old pitcher in the prime of his career to be that out of whack.

He needs to win that back. He needs to win it back Saturday afternoon.

There’s a free fall going on now with this team. Manager Bobby Valentine has tried to put a positive spin on things, predicting the Red Sox will turn it around even after they got their clock cleaned Friday night. What else can he do?

What’s frightening is that no more can the Red Sox complain about all of their injuries, although David Ortiz has made a great case for his value as the Sox are 3-7 in his absence. The hubbub about how much of a jolt Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford would give the team is laughable now. Since Ellsbury returned the Red Sox are 6-7; since Crawford came back they’re 4-6. They have been inconsequential, even with Crawford’s home run Friday night.

To Lester’s credit, he’s worked hard at trying to correct this baffling stretch where he’s looked like one of the worst pitchers in baseball. The Red Sox talk about not wanting to deal him, but it’s hard to imagine they could receive anything substantial, even if they wanted to.

This is rock bottom.

The Red Sox and Lester have hit it with a thud.

The road to the second wild card becomes more distant by the day.

Lester should be so embarrassed over his performance this season he needs to go out and prove everyone wrong. If he has any pride left he will do just that. The starting pitcher must set the tone.

If he can go out and shut down a great Yankees lineup it would be a huge boost for his team.

Lester, 5-8 with a 5.46 ERA, has lost three straight games. In his last start, he allowed 11 runs on nine hits and five walks — along with a career-high four home runs — over 4-plus innings in a 15-7 loss to the Blue Jays. Pitching coach Bob McClure thinks he’s straightened him out with his latest side session where he tweaked some mechanics, so we’ll see if the side work will bear fruits.

In his career, he’s 8-4 with a 3.86 ERA against the Yankees, but has lost three straight decisions to them. He is 6-2 with a 3.75 ERA in 10 starts at Yankee Stadium.

You know what, though, skip the stats. They mean nothing.

What means something is for him to go out and perform like an ace.

It’s about building back confidence, about building back the respect of the fans and the team. He could be 0-10 against the Yankees and it wouldn’t matter, because he needs to be 1-10 after he beats them.

“We’ll turn it around,” Valentine said. “We haven’t had our good stretch yet. That’s the good news.”

Well, not really. By now they should have had a good stretch. They can’t even have a good stretch within a game.

Could Mike Aviles have played a worse game at shortstop Friday night? He basically blew the game by nonchalanting the turn on what would have been an inning-ending double play in the first inning. A batter later, Raul Ibanez belted a two-run homer to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead and took the life out of the Sox.

Dustin Pedroia tried to give the team some life with a first-inning homer. He was pumped up as he ran the bases and he slapped his teammates hard. You’d think that would create some spark, but instead Aaron Cook went out and quickly gave back the lead, with Aviles making his boneheaded play.

From the Beckett School of Stand-up, Aviles told reporters he had nothing to say.

The Yankees have clobbered Boston pitching this season. They have scored in the first inning in six of their seven games vs. the Red Sox for 18 total first-inning runs. That’s horrendous.

Lester needs to come out Saturday with guns blazing, trying to shut people like me up. He should feel the pressure, the burden of who he is. The great ones do. This is his chance to show he belongs with an elite group of pitchers and not in a heap of middle-of-the-road starters.

We’ll see Saturday what Jon Lester is made of.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com or on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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