LOS ANGELES - Sure, the Phillies and Colorado Rockies are about to meet tomorrow in a National League division series for the second time in three years, but the connections between the two teams run deeper than that.
Among those whose baseball paths have crossed are Phils manager Charlie Manuel and Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd; Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley and Colorado third baseman Garrett Atkins; and Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth and Rockies manager Jim Tracy.
And in Game 1, the Rockies' starter at Citizens Bank Park, Ubaldo Jimenez, will be facing the team of countryman Pedro Martinez, who was the 25-year-old Colorado pitcher's idol when growing up.
"Still is," Jimenez said, wearing a proud smile as he stood in front of his locker at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. "To face his team in the playoffs, it's big."
Both Jimenez and Martinez are from the Dominican Republic, and both have pitched for the Licey Tigers during the winter-league season there. And more recently, Martinez, 37, has become a mentor to Jimenez.
In June 2008, Jimenez pitched against Martinez, then with the New York Mets, throwing eight innings of one-run ball in a 7-1 win. The next day, he met his idol in the weight room at Coors Field.
Martinez told Jimenez that he had been following him, offered advice, and promised to stay in touch. Earlier this season, Jimenez learned that wasn't just a hollow promise.
After several rough outings, Jimenez had a 12.00 ERA in his final three starts in April. He retreated to the bullpen to work out some flaws with pitching coach Bob Apodaca, and Martinez offered advice from the Dominican Republic.
"He watched some videos and tried to help me out,'' Jimenez said. "He saw a couple mechanical things that I was doing wrong, the same things Apodaca told me. Pedro is a nice guy. He takes pride in helping others.''
Jimenez would not talk about the mechanical changes that were suggested, but he finished the season 15-12 with a 3.47 ERA in 33 starts. He was sixth in the NL in innings pitched (218) and strikeouts (198), and his .229 opponents batting average was ninth-lowest.
Other Phillies-Rockies connections serve to show that the baseball universe is often a small one.
Rockies GM O'Dowd once ran the minor leagues for the Cleveland Indians and in 1990, he hired a guy named Charlie Manuel to manage the Indians' triple-A club.
Colorado third baseman Atkins is a former UCLA roommate and teammate of Utley's. And while another former Bruin, ex-Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell, introduced Utley to his future wife, Jen, Atkins was best man at Utley's wedding.
And Rockies manager Tracy managed Werth several years ago with the Dodgers and says that Werth's improvement is why he thinks the Phillies "may even be better than last year when they won the World Series.''
But the kinship that Jimenez feels with Martinez is rooted in the Dominican Republic's deep love of baseball.
Jimenez told a story of how there was a party at his home in the Dominican Republic the day he signed with the Rockies in 2001. Someone brought a video camera, and on the video, you can see a picture of Martinez in the background on the wall.
"When Pedro pitched for Boston, every time, we'd be in front of the TV at home,'' Jimenez said. "He's No. 1 in the Dominican Republic.''
After speaking to Martinez regularly during the first half of the season, Jimenez said, he tried not to bother Martinez after he signed with the Phillies in July.
"He's busy doing his own thing now,'' Jimenez said. "I am happy for him.''
But Jimenez couldn't resist calling Martinez and congratulating him after he beat the San Francisco Giants and 2008 NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum on Sept. 3.
Jimenez and Martinez will renew acquaintance today as the Rockies and Phillies hold workouts at Citizens Bank Park.
As of yesterday, Martinez's role in the division series had not been clearly defined. He may start a game, or he may work in relief.
Meanwhile, Jimenez's role is clearly defined. He is charged with getting the Rockies off to a good start.
Two years ago, he started the Game 3 NLDS clincher against the Phillies and allowed just one run over 61/3 innings. Jimenez will enter tomorrow's Game 1 on a roll. In 12 starts since the beginning of August, he is 8-3 with a 2.84 ERA and a .212 opponents' batting average.
Martinez's advice might have helped Jimenez get on this roll, but really, the lanky 6-foot-5 pitcher has always had the potential to be a big-time starter.
"He's got excellent power stuff,'' one NL scout said. "He's right on the edge of becoming one of the best in the league.''
Jimenez's fastball can reach 98 m.p.h., and it comes at hitters with tremendous sinking action. Like Martinez, he has a deep and creative repertoire of pitches, which includes a power slider, an overhand curveball, and a change-up. In fact, Rockies manager Tracy has compared Jimenez to a young Martinez.
So there it is. Still another link between the two teams that begin play in the NLDS tomorrow.