In any language, the familiar sound that accompanied Tom Niedenfuer's every step off the Dodger Stadium mound Thursday night was unmistakable. And so was its message.
Or was it?
"Maybe," Terry Johnson of the South Bay Daily Breeze suggested to Niedenfuer later, "it was a bunch of French Canadians saying boo-ooo-ufff. "
Niedenfuer, whose nickname is Buff, broke into a smile for perhaps the first time all night, but he knew better following the Dodgers' 5-2 loss to the Montreal Expos.
After coming in with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a 2-2 tie and yielding a two-run double to Andre Dawson and a sacrifice fly to Hubie Brooks, Niedenfuer had given no one in the crowd of 33,133 reason to call his name. A call for his head, maybe.
What has been a false spring for Niedenfuer took an even nastier turn Thursday night, right after Dodger starter Bob Welch took a hard shot in the left calf off the bat of Montreal's Tim Raines.
All last season, Welch's right arm had been a cause of concern for the Dodgers. This spring, it has been his legs. On April 30, Welch was struck in the left ankle by a line drive hit by Bob Dernier of the Chicago Cubs.
Thursday night, Raines' line drive hit Welch flush in the left calf and caromed all the way to shortstop Mariano Duncan. Welch toppled off the mound and rolled onto his back, a position in which he remained for several minutes.
"I saw it, and I thought I was going to catch it," Welch said, "but it hit inside my glove.
"Before this year, I'd only been hit once before, in a Detroit summer league."
Perhaps dancing lessons are in order.
"No," Welch said, "I can dance."
And after a few warmup tosses, he determined that he could still pitch, electing to stay in the game with Mike Fitzgerald on third after a leadoff double--one of four times the Expo leadoff man reached base--and Raines on first.
But Raines stole second and Herm Winningham walked to load the bases, Welch just missing on a 3-and-1 pitch.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda wondered if Welch's pitch had missed at all, or whether plate umpire Fred Brocklander was the one who did the missing.
"He (Brocklander) started to raise his right hand up," Lasorda said. "He raised his hand and called it a ball."
That's when Lasorda went to Niedenfuer, who became the victim of Dawson's soft liner over the head of second baseman Steve Sax. Brooks followed with a warning-track drive for another run, and when the inning ended, Niedenfuer was booed worse than he ever has been as a Dodger.
"That comes with relief pitching," Niedenfuer said, repeating a familiar refrain. "Everything is magnified. You give up one key hit, and even though you retire the next five batters, it doesn't matter.
"A starter can give up a hit, retire five in a row and it's 0-0 in the second inning."
It was 2-0, Expos, after the first inning, in which Welch walked Raines, hit Mitch Webster and gave up two-out singles to Tim Wallach and Andres Galarraga. It might have been worse had right fielder Mike Marshall not made a skidding catch of Vance Law's drive down the foul line.
Welch gave up just three more hits after that until the seventh, while striking out nine.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, got one back on Marshall's third home run in two games, his league-leading 11th of the season, this one off Joe Hesketh in the second.
But Mike Scioscia was picked off first base with Enos Cabell on third, taking the Dodgers out of a potentially bigger inning.
In the fifth, Scioscia hustled his way from first to third on Reggie Williams' double, beating Raines' throw with a headfirst slide, and came home on a wild pitch. But Williams was nabbed on the same play by Fitzgerald after taking too wide a turn at third.
The Dodgers, who had won six of their last seven games, wound up with just three hits off Hesketh and relievers Tim Burke and Jeff Reardon. The loss dropped them 3 1/2 games behind Houston in the NL West.
Welch went home to nurse his bruised leg. "I had very, very good stuff," he said. "It was disappointing to lose with that kind of stuff."
Niedenfuer, meanwhile, headed home to nurse his ego.
"I didn't even notice, to tell you the truth," he said.
Maybe he can't understand French.
Dodger Notes Mike Scioscia, on being picked off first in the second inning Thursday: "Over-aggressive. The guy (first baseman Andres Galarraga) was behind me, and they timed it right. I wasn't looking for that play. I was leaning a little toward second, and he moved in behind me. A bonehead play, what can I say?" . . . Pedro Guerrero, who isn't expected back until August at the earliest, has taken some batting practice under the stands at Dodger Stadium.