Almost a decade ago, when they were wild, young Florida Marlins teammates, A.J. Burnett and Miguel Cabrera would celebrate victories with a special handshake. It ended with them shouting, "Sangre!" which is Spanish for blood.

"He liked it so much," Burnett recalled a few days ago before a workout at the Pirates' spring training complex. "He was like, 'Yeah, we play for blood! We want to win real bad!' and it went from there. The hitter's trying to take from me, and I'm trying to take from him. It's my game. You've got to give it everything you've got. You've almost got to be bloodthirsty."

During the 2001 season, a few weeks after he no-hit the San Diego Padres, a magazine writer asked Burnett to describe himself. The corners of Burnett's mouth curled up, and he said, "Bloodthirsty -- at least, I pitch that way sometimes."

Now, Burnett is 35 years old. He still throws heat, even with a surgically reconstructed elbow. The Pirates are his fourth team in eight years. Fans in baseball's mecca embraced him, then reviled him. He has two seasons left on an $82.5 million contract. And he knows that when he retires some day not too far off, he will gain the wonderful luxury of being with his wife and two sons every day.

Is Burnett still bloodthirsty?

"That was a long time ago," Burnett said, shifting in his seat. "I have mellowed."