The good news: Bard, Buchholz

BOSTON -- For the first seven innings of Sunday's Game 3 at Fenway Park, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard were the story. By game's end, they were little more than an afterthought.

On the biggest stage of the 2009 season, two of the Sox's youngest arms combined to limit the Angels to two runs on six hits over seven innings before turning the game over to veterans Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon to close it out.

It didn't happen. Papelbon stood on the hill as the Angels pushed across five runs (two charged to Wagner) over the final 1 1/3 innings for an unfathomable 7-6 win that capped a sweep of the American League Division Series.

Neither Buchholz nor Bard assigned blame after the loss, and neither felt much like commending themselves considering the outcome. But the duo certainly did all they could to extend Boston's season.

Making his first postseason appearance, Buchholz tossed five-plus innings, giving up two runs on six hits, while walking one and striking out three. It might have been worse if not for Bard, who inherited a Buchholz jam in the sixth -- bases loaded and no outs -- and allowed only one run to score while enticing a crucial double play on the first batter he faced.

"I thought it went all right," said Buchholz. "Bard came in and you can't ask anyone to come in with the bases loaded and no outs and not give up one run. That was just awesome. The game simply didn't turn out like we expected."

Buchholz gave up a one-out home run to Kendry Morales in the fourth inning, but, given some early run support, otherwise cruised until the sixth, when he came unglued.

Torii Hunter ripped a double to left and went to third on a balk. Vladimir Guerrero reached on a line drive off third baseman Mike Lowell's glove, and Buchholz seemed flustered with runners at the corners.

Pitching coach John Farrell visited the mound, but Buchholz never regained focus.

Morales walked to load the bases and manager Terry Francona called for Bard, who got Juan Rivera to ground into a 5-4-3 double play, scoring Hunter but stopping the bleeding. The next batter, Maicer Izturis, popped out to end the inning.

Asked if he was surprised to enter in such a pressure-filled situation, Bard didn't hesitate.

"I was expecting it," he said. "That's how we've drawn it up.

"A lot of people don't like that situation, bases loaded and no outs. You're kind of expected to give up two or three runs, so to get out with zero or one, you're kind of set up to succeed.

"It was a great play by Mikey [Lowell] over at third, especially to get two," he said. "I'm thankful for him. Get a ground ball, that's what you're trying to do, a strikeout or a ground ball. It's a good feeling, but it didn't mean anything at the end."

Still, Bard's efforts did not go unnoticed.

"That was an impressive performance by him." general manager Theo Epstein said. "He answered whatever questions anyone might still have about him. Maybe he answered them today. He was knocked out of the draft by some people who thought he didn't have big-time makeup. His first postseason he certainly showed that he does. That was impressive."

While it's hard to think about in the wake of such a tough loss, in the long run both Buchholz and Bard have clearly taken big steps in their development.

Buchholz didn't wilt under the spotlight of the biggest start of his career, and this after a blistering September in which he established himself as a bona fide major league pitcher.

Bard, who finished sixth among all American League relievers with 11.49 strikeouts per nine innings, stamped himself as a trustworthy late-inning arm. Maybe even enough so that the Sox would consider moving Papelbon in the offseason.

Bard said he would build off what he learned this year. Buchholz deemed himself strong and ready to get back to work after a short rest.

As dark as the present may be, their futures look bright.