BOSTON -- The smoke from the grills scattered along Yawkey Way was distinct. Dancing through the air amidst the hordes of people lining the famous street outside Fenway Park on Monday afternoon, it was a scene not unique to the Red Sox faithful over the team's last 455 games.

Another sellout was brewing. This one, however, had a different spark to it.

Boston's showdown with Tampa Bay on Monday marked the 456th consecutive sellout at Fenway, passing the Indians' mark from 1995 through 2001. The streak, which started on May 15, 2003, will now stand as the benchmark for all teams trying to equal the consistent loyalty of the Red Sox Nation.

During the streak's five-year existence, a total 16,336,192 fans walked through the gates of Fenway Park. The next longest current sellout streak in the Major Leagues is the Yankees' streak of 28 games at Yankee Stadium.

This particular night proved no doubt about the stadium being filled to capacity. No empty seats were visible from the top of the first inning.

"We absolutely love it here," said Betsy Brink, a lifetime Red Sox fan in attendance Monday with her husband, John. "There's no place I'd rather be than Fenway Park."

Betsy recalls the days of her youth when her love of this ballclub began to grow. She had her bedroom completely covered in Red Sox news clippings during the 1967 "Impossible Dream" club that marched their way to the American League pennant.

The first game she attended was in 1974, she said. Through the years, there haven't been sellouts each and every night. In fact, there were times when seats were available in most corners of the ballpark.

But the majesty of the ballpark endured. Now, after five consecutive years of packed houses, it gets recognition through its fans as America's most beloved ballpark. It's enough to give Betsy goose bumps.

"Absolutely," she said. "Every time you walk in -- you know when you walk in here and the sun is shining? Every time."

John Brink feels the same way, and for him it stems right from the top of the organization -- principal owner John W. Henry, president/CEO Larry Lucchino and chairman Tom Werner.

On Monday, players and members of the organization greeted fans at every gate with commemorative tickets marking the occasion. Lucchino handed the commemorative ticket to the Brinks.

"There's no place like this," John Brink said. "I've traveled all over the United States, and there's no place like this. It's just a way of life."

The admiration for these fans that helped comprise the streak of sellouts runs all the way from the top of the organization.

"We have a deep appreciation of the fans and the loyalty, the constancy of support," Lucchino said.

It's a streak that ownership didn't begin fully begin to take notice of until "a year or two ago," according to Lucchino. And there were times when it looked like the sellout streak might come to an end -- namely toward the end of the 2006 season, with the Sox eventually missing the playoffs.

The streak endured, and with it came and understanding that it must be cherished while it's there. Things like this can end on any night.

"All you have to do is look at the record we'll break tonight -- the Indians' record 455," Lucchino said. "We're constantly vigilant about it, remembering that this can change if the commitment to winning isn't there."


"I've traveled all over the United States, and there's no place like this."
-- Red Sox fan John Brink, on Fenway

So on this night, longtime Fenway veterans like the Brinks -- enjoying their fifth Sox game of the year -- joined with Maine resident Mamie Pert, who tries to get to two Red Sox games a season. Regardless of how many times people show up, the result is the same.

Fenway's packed stands send chills down visitors' spines in a way that feels as remarkable as the streak itself.

"It's great," Pert said. "I love the seventh inning. That is the most exiting time.

"It's amazing. The fans here are so loyal. They're just loyal."

During Monday's pregame ceremonies, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by three representatives of Red Sox Nation: Dora Giglio, of Quincy, Mass., Kevin Pierro of Norfolk, Mass., and Maurice Polite from Springfield, Mass. The 86-year-old Giglio holds the oldest known season ticket account, which began in 1935. Pierro, 5, was born at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on the day the streak began and Polite was chosen at random from Monday's crowd to represent all Red Sox fans.

As the team took the field at the start of the game, Red Sox players, coaches and ownership tossed special commemorative baseballs into the sellout crowd. Each baseball was engraved with "Thank You -- 456 Consecutive Sellouts" and was either autographed by a current player, coach or by members of the team ownership.

There are stadiums around the country that have trouble filling seats every night. Henry's background in several baseball organizations -- including the Florida Marlins -- made it clear to him that until he saw the commitment from the fans each and every night in the New England area, it was hard to fully understand.

Now, it's a blessing that he and his fans can't possibly take for granted.

That's why they keep coming back.

"We were here for the last game of Manny Ramirez, and we forgot tonight was No. 456," John Brink said. "And we were here a short bit ago at a game that went well to midnight. No one thought about leaving. Why would you leave?"