It didn't bother Mike Morgan that when he took a one-hitter to the mound in the ninth inning of the Dodgers' 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh Saturday, there was no customary standing ovation.
"That's OK," he said. "My family was standing."
It didn't bother Morgan that at the same time, three outs from what would have been the Dodgers' best pitching performance this season, there were two Dodgers warming up in the bullpen.
"Hey, at least they let me finish the game," he said.
Morgan gave up one ninth-inning run and three hits to give the Dodgers a 2-1 edge in this duel between the teams with the two best records in baseball.
The Dodgers got eight hits to hand 1990 Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek his first loss in a month, but the nationally televised spotlight was on the other guy, who entered this spring as the sixth man in a five-man rotation.
Ironically, if it wasn't for the release of close friend Fernando Valenzuela, Morgan wouldn't even be here.
"I felt like I should have come in as the No. 3 starter, but then I saw I might not even be part of things . . . believe me, I was no happy camper," Morgan said. "But I forgot about it. I forget about everything. I just live."
Marking the 21st consecutive game in which a member of the Dodgers' rotation has pitched at least six innings, Morgan walked none and only nine of the Pirates' outs made the outfield.
"I don't know who else cares about Mike, but I do know the players care," Brett Butler said.
"He hasn't had a lot of respect, but that hasn't stopped him. He's made his own breaks."
Butler attempted a diving catch on a shallow fly ball by pinch-hitter Gary Varsho with Jose Lind on first base in the ninth inning. The ball bounced in front of Butler's glove, then rolled behind him. By the time he recovered, Lind was on third, and he scored moments later on Orlando Merced's fly. But Morgan retired Jay Bell on a fly ball and Andy Van Slyke on a grounder to end the game.
"Mike had a two-hitter going, and all I could think of was, 'Let's keep this a two-hitter for him," Butler said.
"Then when happens? He loses his shutout. I really wanted to save that for him."
Morgan improved to 8-5 while lowering his earned-run average to 2.41, the lowest among Dodger starters. While Ramon Martinez is generally considered the ace of the staff, Morgan has pitched more innings in the same number of starts, while giving up the same number of hits with fewer walks.
"There is no question he is our most consistent pitcher," said Mike Scioscia, who lately has been an expert on that word.
With a single and a two-run double Saturday, Scioscia has reached base nine times in his last 11 plate appearances. In the sixth inning, with Eddie Murray on third base and Chris Gwynn on first after Gwynn's second hit, Scioscia fell behind 1-and-2 to Drabek. He fouled off one pitch down the left-field line. Then he fouled off another pitch to the same area.
Finally he found one he liked and drove it into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. He ended the play by being thrown out at third base while trying for his second triple in five years.
"A great at-bat. I'm just glad I had a good view," Gwynn said. "He finally got a pitch he could handle, Van Slyke was cheating toward right field, and he just put it out there."
After batting .193 in May, Scioscia is batting .321 in June.
The Dodgers clinched the victory with an eighth-inning fly ball to left field by Kal Daniels that popped out of Barry Bonds' glove and into the stands for a home run. Bonds broke to his left, then had to circle around when the ball sailed to his right. He stuck out his glove in front of the low fence in the left-field corner and appeared to catch the ball before it popped over the fence.
That was a break for Morgan, who may feel he doesn't get one at the pay window. Morgan is the Dodgers' lowest-paid pitcher, making $650,000 in the final year of his contract. He is eligible to become a free agent this winter, at which point he will be looking not so much for money, but respect.
"Trying to win a World Series is first, but after that, when I go on the market, I want to go somewhere that I can be the No. 1 or No. 2 starter," Morgan said.
"The funny thing about the way I am throwing now is that I've been throwing this way for three years here. You would just never know it."
UPHILL CLIMB: Doug Drabek, last season's National League Cy Young Award winner, is pitching better after a slow start. C6