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Molina cleaning up for Angels

Molina's value growing game-by-game

NEW YORK -- Bengie Molina is inspiring plenty of emotions during this American League Division Series.

On Friday night, the Angels catcher had his teammates elated over his startling power surge, then petrified when he was hit in the elbow by a fastball from Yankees reliever Tom Gordon.

In the end, X-rays were negative and Molina might return to action Saturday afternoon, but it's likely that the Yankees wish he would go away forever.

"I just think he's finally getting the opportunity to showcase what he can do and he's taking advantage of the situation," said Molina's teammate, left fielder Garret Anderson.

"Since he's come up, I've always labeled him as a very clutch hitter."

The not-so-fleet-of-foot Molina has taken that label and, well, lived up to it in this series.

Molina was 2-for-3 in Game 3 with a two-run homer and a single and had a homer in each of the three games in the series. He was batting .455 for the ALDS.

Then Gordon missed with an inside fastball in the seventh inning and Molina took it right on the outside of his left elbow. He went down to the ground in pain and was attended by the Angels' medical staff before walking off the field and being replaced by the backup catcher, Bengie's brother, Jose.

The injury was diagnosed as a contusion and X-rays were negative.

"I think my injury is fine," Molina said. "About playing tomorrow, I don't know. We've got to wait until the morning and see how swollen it is."

That seemed to be just fine for his teammates, who weren't breathing too easily when they saw Molina go down.

"We were all scared," Jose Molina said. "I was praying right there. I want to see him play again in this series. I understand my job. This team needs Bengie to win and that's the bottom line."

The team definitely needs his bat.

Molina, who homered off Tanyon Sturtze in Game 1 and Al Leiter in Game 2, singled off Yankees starter Randy Johnson with two out in the first inning of Game 3, moving Vladimir Guerrero from first to third. Anderson followed with a three-run homer that put the Angels on top, 3-0.

In the third inning, again with two out, Molina got another pitch to hit.

"If there's one pitch I would want back, it was the one to Bengie Molina," Johnson said after the game. "It was a splitter that I got up in the zone a little bit."

Molina hooked it into the first row beyond the left-field wall to continue his ALDS legend.

He has been so hot at the plate that manager Mike Scioscia, who hit him fifth in Games 1 and 2, moved him to the cleanup spot for Friday's game.

"In the opinion of every guy on this pitching staff, Bengie's the best defensive catcher in the league," Angels reliever Scot Shields said. "And in my opinion, he's the best clutch hitter in the league. He's been unbelievable."

It must have been a particularly sweet turn of events for Molina, who is very sensitive and was naturally upset when a Southern California newspaper columnist made a point earlier in the year by saying that a potential championship team wouldn't have Molina batting in the fifth position.

Molina isn't a slugger, but he did hit a career-high 15 home runs in 2005. Hurt by the columnist's comment, Molina declined to speak with reporters until the Angels nailed down a playoff spot.

He was perfectly fine with talking after Game 3, when his efforts from the cleanup spot helped the Angels take a 2-1 lead in the ALDS after losing the first game. They can knock the Yankees out of the playoffs with a win Saturday afternoon.

"This is no surprise," he said. "Our team has always been able to come back against any team with the little things like we did today.

"That's just the kind of team we are."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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