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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Good news despite loss

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Forget about the price of gas, Jennifer Aniston's heartache, Tony Blair's secret vacation site, Big Dig tunnel leaks, steroids in professional sports, the Yankees being three games back, guns in Damascus, the single-bullet theory, a (thus-far) 2-4 Red Sox road trip, and overnight ratings for Tommy Lee's reality TV show.

Cue Louis Armstrong's ''What a Wonderful World." All is right with the universe. Every weekend is going to be tax-free in Massachusetts stores. Starting today, ice cream will be calorie-free and we're all going to look great in our beachwear.

Curt Schilling is returning to the starting rotation.

Happy day.

Never wanting to take himself too seriously (no truth to the rumor that Schill keeps a podium in the back of that Ford pickup you see in the ads), Big Curt doesn't want you all to make a fuss out of this, but fan and media hysteria is inevitable. The return of Mr. Bloody Sock is guaranteed to bring a smile to every citizen of Red Sox Nation.

The Big Guy certainly looked like himself when he steamrolled the Angels in Friday night's 10-inning, 4-3 victory. He retired all six batters he faced, striking out four.

''It's the most he's looked like himself in a long time," general manager Theo Epstein said before yesterday's 4-2 loss to the Halos. ''Even his mound presence was improved."

Seeing that Schilling was healthy, confident, and painting the black with 90-plus-mile-per-hour stuff, the Red Sox yesterday announced the ace will start Thursday in Kansas City, the final game of this three-city, 10-game trip. The Curt as Closer Era is officially over.

It's unfortunate that Schilling's reentry won't happen in Fenway Park, but the timing gives Schilling a chance to play a part in some big league history yet again. If the Royals keep losing (they were going for 20 straight last night in Oakland), Kansas City will be going for the post-1900 major league record of 24 consecutive defeats when Schill takes the hill. More important, a Thursday return would put Schilling on course to be in the middle of the final two series against the Yankees.

''We didn't want to do it until we felt he was at a point where he could succeed," said Epstein. ''His arm has been resilient, but we don't want to do anything to hurt him. We wanted him to be confident about the ankle and his delivery."

This means the Sox are counting on Keith Foulke to replace Schilling as the closer by the end of the month. But after his spring struggles and summer surgery, can the Sox expect Foulke to be the Foulke of October 2004?

Epstein answered, ''Can he be himself? If healthy, I think he can be. It's not fair to ask anyone to do what that guy did last October, but he can go back to being one of the best relief pitchers in baseball."

Unspoken in all of this is the secret weapon in the person of draftee Craig Hansen. Don't bet against the Sox summoning the St. John's rocketman down the stretch. It would be a bold move, but sometimes that's just Theo being Theo.

Meanwhile, some observations from the OC:

  • He delivered a big hit in the eighth inning, so maybe we'll look back and say that yesterday was the day Edgar Renteria finally started playing like a $10 million-per-year player. He's a nice man and has accomplished much in his career, but Renteria has been soft all season, too often playing like Jose Offerman. He hasn't hit a homer in 196 at-bats, a drought that exceeds Kevin Millar's much-documented power outage. He also has a whopping 23 errors and never looks confident in the field. What's the deal? Too fat and happy with the big contract? Not comfortable outside the womb of St. Louis? National League fraud? Or maybe we're finally going to see the real Edgar in September and October.

  • In Anaheim, Manny Ramirez has taken to staring in the direction of the press box when he approaches home plate before each at-bat. I think he winked at me in the fourth inning yesterday. Manny knows we love him, but, regrettably, we must point out that he dogged it down the line in the second inning and cost the Sox a base runner when Maicer Izturis's throw took Casey Kotchman off the bag.

  • Everybody loves David Ortiz more than everybody loves Raymond, but he makes it tough on himself with those demonstrations at the plate when he doesn't get a call.

  • Old friend Millar and the Angels' Steve Finley look like bookend candidates for the lead in the remake of ''They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

  • He was easy to poke fun at, but Mark Bellhorn was a gentleman, conducted himself professionally at all times, and did some great things for the World Series champion Red Sox in 2004.

  • Mike Remlinger with the Red Sox: 15 outs, 12 hits, 5 walks. 19.80 ERA. Ouch.

  • What's not to like about Angels righthander Ervin ''Magic" Santana? The 22-year-old Dominican rookie was throwing 95 miles per hour in the eighth inning. The next Pedro, perhaps?

  • Hats off to Mike Scioscia. No American League team forces you to make plays like the Angels. If Garret Anderson comes back, these guys look like trouble in October. Then again, I thought the same thing last year.

    Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist.

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