For the first time this season, Bruce Ford was in a jam. Although his DuVal High School teammates had given him a 2-0 lead over Northwestern entering the sixth inning, things still weren't locked up.
With two out and one on, he yielded a double to left, then had a brief mound conference with brother/catcher Victor Ford, and DuVal Coach Bob Estes. One run-scoring single later, he got his second strikeout of the inning to end the rally, and the Tigers went on to win, 2-1.
Until he gave up that run, he had been performing the same way he has all season, that is, being unyielding on the mound. In fact, he had beaten this same team nearly a week earlier, 6-0, a game in which Estes said Ford was "tight."
"He was a lot looser than last week," Estes said, "but they've (Northwestern) got some hitters. It's tough to come back against a good pitcher."
If Bruce Ford gets any looser, the rest of the Prince George's County AA league could be in trouble. Along with brother Victor and Tim Fitzgerald, the Tigers have turned from just being a contender into one of the favorites this season. And when David Taylor returns from an injury, they may be even better.
Of the Tigers' eight victories through last weekend, Bruce Ford has won four of them, including a season-opening no-hitter against Crossland, two one-hitters and the three-hit, 87-pitch effort against Northwestern. He has a strikes-thrown average of 67 percent and a batting average over .300.
Brother Victor, one of the top catchers in the county, pitches, too, and is 2-0, throwing a one-hitter against Suitland. He, too, can hit (.400 average) and throw strikes (65 percent).
Bruce Ford's success might be surprising considering that at the age of 7, he vowed he would never play the game. At the time, Victor Ford was playing on an intramural team at Forestville Boys Club. A coach there saw Bruce Ford shagging flies with his brother and suggested he try to play, which produced an interesting moment in his first game, according to their mother Anastasia Lanham.
"The coach told him to grab a bat and go to the plate," Lanham said. "So he just put the bat on his shoulder and stood on the plate."
With Victor Ford, the oldest, it was a matter of just finding things for him to throw at. "When they were growing up, (Victor) loved to throw," she said, so she would set up cans and other targets to practice on.
Victor Ford, though, found something else to practice with. "I used to get a rock and a bottle, and I'd throw the bottle up in the air and try to hit it with the rock," he said.
A catcher then, he was somewhat reluctant to catch his brother's throws once Bruce started pitching. "(Bruce) got his speed from his size," Victor Ford said. "Over the years, he started getting bigger, and the speed came along with it."
For Lanham, the only problems she had was solving a schedule conflict with their seeing games, since they were on different teams at that time, and trying to fill both parental roles since she and her husband were divorced when the two were young.
"We're a family," she said. "I enjoy their accomplishments. Why do good if nobody's there to say, 'Hey, you're doing good'?"
Both of their games have been refined since their arrival at DuVal. In their three varsity years, Estes has taught Bruce Ford not to bear down so hard after giving up a hit, and for Victor Ford to wait for a good pitch.
Bruce Ford, a senior who resembles San Francisco Giants pitcher Vida Blue in size, motion and control, would sometimes try too hard after a hit. But now Estes says Ford is "more confident, and his experience has taught him not to worry about strikeouts."
Estes has helped him develop a slider, while the assistant coach, Don Phelps, has improved his follow-through. His fast ball is no problem, having been recently clocked by a Giants scout at 86 mph.
"Bruce's strength is that he's big and strong, and intimidating on the mound," Estes said. "A batter knows he'd better be swinging or he's out."