DETROIT -- Warped as it may sound, the good news -- to the extent that there was any -- for the Red Sox on Wednesday night was that it wasn't just any one thing that defined the dud that was their 7-3 loss to the Tigers.
It wasn't just that Jake Peavy struggled, allowing the new-look Tigers lineup to flourish and making Jim Leyland, who batted his best hitter in the two-hole, among other changes, look like an inadvertent sabermetric genius.
It wasn't just that Dustin Pedroia got handcuffed on a would-be inning-ending double-play ball in the second inning, in the midst of what turned out to be a five-run outburst from the Tigers' bats.
It wasn't just that Doug Fister became the latest Tigers starter to tie up those uber-patient Red Sox hitters with pinpoint command of his breaking pitches.
Around the time Miguel Cabrera -- no, make that a hobbled Miguel Cabrera -- stole second base uncontested in the fourth inning, the Red Sox had to know Game 4, which evened up this best-of-seven American League Championship Series at two wins apiece, was just one of those ridiculous nights, best left in the rearview.
They were beaten soundly, they were beaten swiftly (it was all but over after four, even if the Red Sox did make it remotely interesting in the ninth) and they were beaten convincingly. This was not a night of what-ifs or gut punches or second-guesses; it was simply a night in which the Tigers could not be contained and the Red Sox were in no position -- in any facet of the game -- to do the containing.
"It's OK," David Ortiz said. "They just played better than we did tonight. What can you do?"
Well, Papi, funny you should ask, because the question has to be running through John Farrell's mind right about now.
The first rule of thumb come October is that you can always do something. Leyland lived by that policy in the lead-up to Game 4. While batting order configuration can be an inherently overrated facet of this game, the fact that Leyland, who is as stubborn as they come, rocked the boat so dramatically was telling of his team's temperature.
Now, it's Farrell taking a good, long look at his lineup. Does he start rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts in Game 5 over Stephen Drew, whose at-bats have been even harder to watch than this 3-for-28 postseason stat line would indicate? Or maybe Bogaerts replaces Will Middlebrooks, who is a slightly-more-encouraging though altogether-uninteresting 4-for-23?
It's not possible for Bogaerts to play both spots, is it?
Whatever the exact alignment, Farrell is clearly considering putting Bogaerts in there Thursday in some way, shape or form.
"Given the way the left side of the infield [is performing], we're struggling a little bit to get production out of that side," Farrell said. "So it's something that's being considered, for sure."
Bogaerts is still pretty much an unknown commodity, particularly on this stage, but his leadoff ninth-inning double, which led to a run, after replacing Drew midgame Wednesday was one to dream on for a Red Sox club struggling to generate much in the form of meaningful extra-base knocks.
That Tigers rotation isn't helping matters.
"The way they've been pitching is a whole totally different game," Ortiz said. "They're taking things to another level, which is the way it's supposed to be in the playoffs. These guys are throwing any kind of pitch in any situation."
This is what the Tigers' starting staff has done to the Red Sox through four games: 27 innings, three earned runs, 14 hits, 10 walks, 42 strikeouts. We entered October touting the Tigers as the owners of arguably the best starting staff, one through four, of any of the postseason clubs, and this LCS confirms that notion.
More to the point, what the Tigers have done is make just about every Red Sox hitter summon his inner Jobu. The breaking ball has been a fascinating source of frustration for Boston, to this point. In Games 1-3, the Red Sox saw 101 sliders and didn't get a single one of them out of the infield. In Game 4, Fister threw 27 curveballs in his six innings, and they netted him 20 strikes and, most importantly, eight outs.
The reason the Red Sox are so patient -- often laying off fastballs in the zone early in the count -- is because they want to wear down the Tigers' starters and get into the sometimes-shaky Detroit bullpen as quickly as possible. It worked in Game 2. And in Game 3, it was Mike Napoli's patience that put him in position to capitalize on one of the very few mistakes made by Justin Verlander, on Verlander's 100th pitch.
Alas, this approach looks a lot less effective when your starter gives up seven runs while you're flailing away at the hook. The Red Sox actually outhit the Tigers in Game 4 (12-9), but it mattered very little, because the big hits never came.
That doesn't mean the Red Sox ought to stray from the patient approach that got them to this point, especially given the control issues that marred an otherwise stellar start from the Tigers' Game 5 starter, Anibal Sanchez, in his first outing in this series.
"We had 12 hits tonight, and you leave 10 men on base," Farrell said. "The one thing when we've been in stretches like this, we continually do a very good job of creating opportunities. We did that tonight. We haven't done it so much in the first three games, but that's a tip of the hat to the pitching we've been facing. But the one thing that we've maintained is a constant approach with the lineup and not creating further uncertainty, and I think our guys have responded well to that."
If we know anything about the Red Sox, they'll probably respond well to this loss, which was utterly forgettable in every way. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug, as the old Dire Straits lyric goes. The good news in Boston is that the Red Sox aren't in dire straits. The underrated positive of getting blown out to this degree is that it allowed Farrell to preserve the most essential elements of his 'pen. And the Red Sox, of course, have their ace, Jon Lester, going in Game 5 on Thursday night (8 ET, FOX). This LCS has become a best-of-three, and, with a bullpen superior to that of the Tigers, the Red Sox are still well-equipped for it.
But Game 4 was a reminder of what happens when your execution wanes at this stage and against this opponent. Could be wrong, but something about this series screams seven games, and it took a revitalized Tigers team and a Boston dud to get us one step closer.