Sen. John F. Kerry knew he was treading on dangerous ground.
"There's already been an October surprise," he announced to thousands of supporters who spilled across a lawn at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. "The Red Sox are still alive!"
The Democratic presidential candidate's jubilant proclamation -- made just an hour before Boston faced New York for Game 7 of the American League championship -- was met with a mix of cheers and boos.
"I know, I know. I'm in Pirates country," Kerry said. "I understand, I get it. But you wouldn't expect me to say "
Even as he scrambles across the country, in the biggest race of his life, the Massachusetts senator has devotedly followed the progress of his beloved Boston Red Sox. He has peppered his staff for game scores between events. He's gotten updates from pilots on his campaign plane and stayed up late in hotel rooms watching the final innings.
The Red Sox's latest roller-coaster season has given the candidate a chance to channel his emotions into another hard-fought competition.
After his rally in Pittsburgh, Kerry jumped into his GM Suburban and turned up the radio to follow the final Boston-New York matchup.
He later watched it over beers with aides in his fifth-floor room in the Holiday Inn in Boardman, Ohio. Aides said Kerry stood up the entire time the Yankees were at bat in the ninth inning, his eyes glued to the screen. When the victorious Red Sox stormed the field, he told his staff, "Now, I can sleep."
Following this year's series has provided Kerry with an escape from the rigors of the road, allowing him to be -- for a few moments -- simply a sports fan.
When he arrived at the Ramada Inn in Waterloo, Iowa, on Tuesday night, Kerry raced upstairs to his room to watch the final minutes of the sixth Yankees-Red Sox faceoff alongside personal aide Marvin Nicholson and trip director Setti Warren.
"He usually ends the night by going through the papers in his briefcase, but this time, he went right to the TV," Nicholson said.
The night ended with whoops, cheers and high fives.
The senator's father passed along to him a long-suffering devotion to the Red Sox, and Kerry has regaled his staff with memories of seeing legendary left-fielder Ted Williams play at Fenway Park. He displays a baseball signed by Williams in his Senate hideaway office in Washington, as well as one from another great Red Sox outfielder, Carl Yastrzemski.