Wiedmer: Rick Honeycutt has Dodgers pitchers ready to avenge Fall Classic heartbreak

Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, right, talks to starter Ross Stripling during a road game against the Chicago Cubs on June 20. Honeycutt, a Chattanooga native, and the Dodgers are back in the World Series for the second straight year. Game 1 is Tuesday night in Boston.

Fifteen days ago, with the third game of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves soon to begin at SunTrust Park, visiting pitching coach Rick Honeycutt discussed what he liked about this year's Dodgers.

"The playoffs are all about momentum," the Lakeview High School and University of Tennessee product said that Sunday evening, when his Dodgers were already up 2-0 in a best-of-five series they would win 3-1.

"We finished the regular season with momentum (winning 14 of their final 18 games). Everybody is throwing well in the postseason. That's what you always hope for this time of year."

Let the record show the Dodgers' momentum has now reached the World Series, which will begin Tuesday night in Boston's venerable Fenway Park against the Red Sox.

And while the BoSox are no doubt eager to show they're worth every penny of their MLB-leading $223 million opening-day payroll - the Dodgers are tied for fourth with the Washington Nationals at $180 million - Honeycutt and the Dodgers have a more painful reason to want to add to their five World Series crowns since the organization left Brooklyn for the Left Coast in 1958.

"Last year was a bitter pill to swallow," Honeycutt said of losing Game 7 of the World Series to the Houston Astros. "You work so hard to get there, from spring training in February, through the whole season, then the playoffs. Then you get to three games-all, and to lose the seventh game like we did was tough. It took a long time to get over that."

Indeed, after two extra-inning games and a 3-1 Dodgers victory in Game 6 to knot the Series at 3-3, the Astros rolled to a 5-1 clinching win atop the Dodger Stadium turf.

"When you get to that stage of the postseason, it's hard to overcome early deficits," Honeycutt said. "That last game was a dud."

Honeycutt's professional baseball career has been anything but a dud. During a playing career that lasted 20 seasons, included a 3-0 record in 30 postseason appearances, one World Series ring (1989) and 109 total wins and 38 saves, he was the oldest player in the majors in both 1996 and 1997, retiring at the age of 42.

But it's what the Chattanooga native has done as a Dodgers assistant that has arguably made the 64-year-old Honeycutt the most respected pitching coach in the major leagues. Hired for that job in 2006, he's now working for his fourth manager, Dave Roberts. No other Dodgers coach is still around from 12 years ago. Consider this, also: Honeycutt is the only pitching coach ace Clayton Kershaw has ever had in the majors.

"I'm pretty sure Rick is the only one of us with a lifetime contract," Roberts said with a smile during the Dodgers' trip to Atlanta in late July. "I know I'd hate to have to replace him. He's as good as there is in our business."

How much longer Honeycutt intends to remain in the business is another matter, despite his overseeing the majors' best cumulative ERA over the past 12 years.

"I love what I do, I still love being part of a team," he said. "There's nothing like it. But I know the end is getting closer and closer. I approach every year now like it could be my last. The travel gets a little harder every year. I think I like being back home a little more every year."

Yet just like last year's Fall Classic, Honeycutt will be in the Dodgers' dugout, probably standing near Roberts, when the World Series starts Tuesday night. (Game's 1 first pitch is set for 8:09, and Fox will televise all of the games.) Honeycutt, no doubt, will make at least one trip to the mound in every game. His pitchers will almost certainly show time and time again why the Dodgers will never voluntarily part company with Honeycutt.

Then, whenever and however it ends - a seventh game, if necessary, would be played Halloween night at Fenway - he and wife Debbie will close up the apartment he keeps in Los Angeles during the season and return home to the Scenic City.

"It's always great to get home, see the kids and the grandkids and give everyone a big hug," Honeycutt said. "Then we always try to have a dinner for everyone, including my parents, just to get the whole family together."

Anything else?

"Well, I imagine I'll try to get in a few rounds of golf as soon as possible," he said

But first there's a World Series to chase with all those wonderful arms Honeycutt has nurtured and developed.

"We're in a good place," he said of the Dodgers 15 days ago. "We're pretty healthy. We're on a good run at the right time. It would certainly be great to get that bitter taste from last year out of our mouths this time around."

Especially if this finally becomes the year that Honeycutt returns home for good.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.