Pat Combs – 1992 Upper Deck

December 4, 2010

“Hey, What Happened?”

Or another apt question…

“I Dunno Steve, Can You Find My Fastball? Because I Can’t Seem To Locate It…”

The above picture seems to be from June 16, 1991. It was the homestanding Phils taking on the Reds, and Combs was facing Norm Charlton. Combs’ great taste in socks didn’t help him in this game. He and Mr. Lake are looking concerned and / or perturbed.

Combs’  line: 4 1/3 4 4 7 7

120 pitches thrown in 4 1/3 innings.

Flash back to 1988. Combs led the US to victory in the Baseball World Cup. (Not held in Qatar.) He was a first round pick of the Phillies. Because of his World Cup duties, he didn’t start his minor league career until the next season. But there was every indication that Combs was going to be a stud.

1989 proved golden as well for Combs. He blew through A, AA, and AAA and made his major league debut on September 5. That was an impressive September – six starts and a 4-0, 2.o9 slate. He walked just six in 38 2/3, and three of those were in his debut and one later walk was intentional. He also fanned 30 batters. He seemed to have the entire package.

Of course he was penciled into the rotation in 1990. Why not? There were no red flags, seemingly.

But big league hitters make adjustments. They study video, even in 1990 they studied video. They pass information between each other. They lay off of pitches, and let youngsters dig their own holes.

Combs seeming dug his own holes. Batters were laying off some pitches and they were getting Combs deep into counts. His walk rate went way up and his strikeout rate went way down. His pitch count was increasing.

Still, a 10-10 slate, with a 4.07 ERA in 183 1/3 innings, for someone’s first full season in the bigs wasn’t really a huge disappointment. Was was troubling was that Combs walked 86 while striking out just 108. If you’re going to walk that many hitters, you need to sit more hitters on their fannies.

Then, 1991 happened. Combs couldn’t find his location, seemingly. Whatever he had in 1988 and 1989 was gone. Instead, he was wild, sort of like Millie’s assessment of Nuke LaLoosh’s talents as a lover and a pitcher.

The result? A 2-6, 4.90 effort that ended when Combs was sent down after a June 26 start (10 days after the start pictured in the card). That start was a total disaster. He faced five batters and threw 27 pitches. 20 of those pitches were balls. Five walks, five runs, five earned runs. He did get one out. After walking the bases loaded Pedro Guerrero hit the first pitch he saw to center for a sac fly. I can only imagine what Joe Torre was thinking in the dugout when he was Pedro swing at the first pitch after the opposing pitcher had just walked three batters, throwing one strike between those three hitters.

It may have been thought that a sabbatical to Scranton / Wilkes-Barrie would be all Combs needed. It wasn’t. While Ryan Howard, Kelly Kapoor, Pam Beesly and Jim Halpert were youngsters, and Michael Scott was about to start his career at a mid-size regional paper company, Combs struggled, and basically made SWB his home away from home from mid-1991 to mid-1995. He did make it back to Philly for a bit in 1992, but still had command and control issues.

Finally, in mid-1995 he was released. The Brewers picked him up, and he still struggled in New Orleans, and that was it.

Something happened to Combs in his first full big league year. He may have lost confidence, which caused a loss of command and control. He may have had a hidden injury. But a promising career slowly evaporated, and led to the back of the Upper Deck card, where he and grizzled vet Steve Lake were looking around for answers that no one had.

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