NEW YORK — The fastball came up and in, crashing into the left elbow of Bengie Molina. He dropped to his knees in pain. At that moment, Molina feared the elbow was broken.
"I couldn't feel my hand," he said. "I was pretty scared."
Molina left the game, but he apparently escaped serious injury. He was diagnosed with a bruised left elbow, but X-rays revealed no fracture. The elbow remains sore, and the Angels won't know whether their catcher can play today until they see how much the elbow might swell overnight.
Molina is hitting .455 in the series, with a home run in each of the three games. He said he did not believe the Yankees had ordered pitcher Tom Gordon to aim for him and said teams have pitched him inside all season.
"I don't think he tried to hit me," Molina said. "It's just baseball. It just got away."
Though Brendan Donnelly gave up two runs and a lead in the fourth inning Friday night, the Angels clearly won the battle of the bullpens.
Scot Shields threw two scoreless innings, getting out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the sixth when he got Robinson Cano to fly to left on the first pitch, and Kelvim Escobar gave up one eighth-inning run in two impressive innings.
Aaron Small relieved Yankee starter Randy Johnson with runners on first and third and no out in the fourth and escaped the jam, striking out Adam Kennedy and getting Chone Figgins to ground into a double play, but the right-hander was tagged for two runs in the sixth.
Gordon and left-hander Al Leiter also gave up a pair of runs for the Yankees, who have struggled all season to find capable middle relief.
The Angel bullpen, on the other hand, received a huge boost when starter Escobar returned from elbow surgery in early September and agreed to pitch in relief.
"Oh, man, he's been huge," Shields said of Escobar. "Having him available to pitch the seventh and eighth makes the game even shorter. You can't ask for anything more."
Orlando Cabrera had no idea he was batting .364 (eight for 22) against Johnson until he was informed by several reporters before Game 3.
"I didn't even know that," the Angel shortstop said. "You're trying to jinx me."
Cabrera did not know his exact numbers against the 6-foot-10 Johnson, but he had a good idea why he had so much success.
"He used to tip his pitches a lot a few years ago," Cabrera said. "His fastball and slider are so good, he didn't need another pitch, but when he was tipping pitches, and we knew he was throwing the slider, we'd let it go. ... In the big leagues, you can throw 100 mph, but if you know it's a fastball, you can hit it."
Cabrera said Johnson used to hold his glove tightly to his chest when he threw the fastball and loosely near his chest when he threw the slider.
"Then he started throwing the split-fingered fastball, a different pitch against right-handers," Cabrera said.
Cabrera said Johnson is no longer tipping his pitches, but the Angels seemed to know what was coming Friday night, when they shelled Johnson for five runs and nine hits, including Cabrera's third-inning double, in three-plus innings.
Six teams -- the Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- have openings for managers, but Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman said no one has called seeking permission to interview Joe Maddon, Angel bench coach, or Bud Black, pitching coach.
"I would like to think someone is going to call," Maddon said, "but I haven't heard anything yet."