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Former Miami Marlins players enjoy taste of playoff chase

When Randy Choate didn’t have a chance to exchange greetings with former Marlins teammate Gaby Sanchez during batting practice in Pittsburgh last week, he waited for the right moment.

It came during the game.

“Hanley Ramirez got a hit and I had him tap Gaby to look my way,’’ said Choate, who was seated in the dugout. “I tipped my cap to him, and then I formed my hands in the “U’’ — that thing people at the University of Miami do all the time — only I made mine upside down.’’

Choate, who played his collegiate baseball at Florida State, got a rise out of the Pirates first baseman with his mocking gesture.

It was barely over a month ago that Choate, Ramirez and Sanchez were all Marlins. Now, they — along with Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and Edward Mujica — are spread across the majors, the fallout from the Marlins’ massive sell-off before the July 31 trade deadline.

But those six players didn’t just land on any teams.

They’re all playing for playoff contenders: Ramirez and Choate with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Infante and Anibal Sanchez with the Detroit Tigers, Gaby Sanchez with the Pirates and Mujica with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“Every single game is meaningful,” Gaby Sanchez said. “And it’s definitely exciting.’’

Which is more than the teammates they left behind on the Marlins are able to say. While the Marlins try to avoid a second consecutive last-place finish, they arrive in Los Angeles for a weekend series against a Dodgers team that sits second in the National League West, only 2 1/2 games behind San Francisco.

What’s more, Ramirez with the Dodgers is looking more like the former batting champion and three-time All-Star than the player whose failure to produce at the plate prompted his trade.

In his 27 games for the Dodgers, the rejuvenated Ramirez is hitting .308 with five home runs and 29 RBI. He has also returned to shortstop after being forced from that position on the Marlins.

“Once he moved back to shortstop, he started raking,” said Choate, who was traded to the Dodgers with Ramirez for pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and minor-league pitcher Scott McGough. “He’s been going off. And I don’t think, here, he feels the pressure of having to carry the whole team.’’

Choate said Ramirez seems so much more relaxed and happier.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger difference in somebody,’’ he said. “Everybody here asks me, ‘Was he really that different?’ He smiles all the time. ... He jokes around with the guys.’’

Ramirez isn’t the only traded Marlin helping his new team.

Mujica hasn’t allowed a run, and only six hits, in nine relief outings for the Cardinals.

Infante is hitting .289 with three home runs for the Tigers, though he has also been charged with five fielding errors.

Gaby Sanchez, who hit only .202 with the Marlins a year after being the team’s only All-Star representative in 2011, is hitting .277 with the Pirates.

Only Anibal Sanchez has struggled. He has gone just 2-3 with a 6.38 ERA for Detroit.

“I would have loved to stay with the Marlins,” Gaby Sanchez said. “It’s my hometown. But I also feel like it was the best for both of us, for me and the Marlins — for me, just starting somewhere fresh, starting somewhere new. I feel like I found a really good place in Pittsburgh.”

The former Marlins still run into one another on occasion, like when the Dodgers were in Pittsburgh a week ago. And when the Pirates faced the Cardinals recently and Gaby Sanchez singled off Mujica.

“It was fun walking up to the plate and knowing I was just with him this year,” Sanchez said.

The Cardinals travel to Los Angeles in September for an important series against the Dodgers.

“Mujica and I are already texting about it,” Choate said.

The former Marlins are enjoying their new digs and the thrill of pennant fever.

“You’re thinking about October, and you seem to be in a better mood all the time,” Choate said. “The music [inside the clubhouse] is playing louder. It’s overall more fun.”

Coming up



Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi (4-8, 4.03 ERA) at Los Angeles Dodgers RHP Chad Billingsley (10-9, 3.44), 10:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium.

Saturday: Marlins RHP Josh Johnson (7-10, 3.73) at Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw (11-7, 2.87), 9:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium.


Scouting report:

The Dodgers won two out of three in Miami earlier this month. The Marlins are 33-40 all-time at Dodger Stadium.

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