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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Everything they touch turns to gold

Josh Beckett is back, a 4-2 winner over the Tribe last night. The Red Sox have won five in a row, lead the Yankees by 14 1/2 games, and own the best record in baseball. And the reeling Yanks are afraid to pitch Roger Clemens in Fenway Park this weekend.

Could life be any better?

We suddenly have a San Diego weather mass over our region. The tunnels are open again and you can get where you are going in no time. The Patriots have a chance to go 16-0 and it feels like we all might win the lottery. Next thing you know, some dietician will discover that hot fudge sundaes cause you to lose weight. You'll be able to drink water from the Charles, all college tuition will be free, and the Celtics will experience good luck.

These are heady days over on Yawkey Way, and the return of Beckett is just one more brick in the wall of wonder that is the 2007 Red Sox season.

"This is a real special group of guys," said Beckett, whose seven innings of stellar work improved his record to 8-0.

There is something distinctly Patriotlike about the fall and rise of Beckett in this special spring. He was the winningest pitcher in baseball when he went to the disabled list. He appeared to be bound for a start in the All-Star Game in San Francisco before suffering an "avulsion" on his right middle finger while throwing a pitch against the Orioles in what turned out to be the most memorable game of this young season (a.k.a. the "Mother's Day Miracle"). Remember, boys and girls, this was not a blister -- it was an avulsion.

The Patriot Way holds that a team will plug gaps with unselfish players when a star goes down with an injury. This is how you can lose a Rodney Harrison and still make it to a championship game. The Red Sox got some unexpected heroics when Beckett went to the shelf. Rookie lefty Kason Gabbard came in and threw a Billy Rohr-type game. Meanwhile, Julian Tavarez continued to dominate the Yankees and the Sox kept rolling.

Boston led the American League East by seven games when Beckett left the May 13 game. When Beckett threw the first pitch of his return, the Sox led the AL East by 11 1/2 games.

There seems to be no limit to the positivity. Kevin Youkilis is Steve Garvey. Mike Lowell is Mike Schmidt. Dustin Pedroia is Bill Mazeroski and Jonathan Papelbon is Dick Radatz. Manny is Manny, and David Ortiz can take a few days off without anyone noticing. Theo Epstein is Red Auerbach and Terry Francona is Bill Belichick.

The Yankees have no pitching and the Red Sox have a glut of moundsmen. Did we mention that Jon Lester made another rehab start last night, and threw 95 miles per hour in five innings of shutout ball? Where to put him? What would they do with Willie McGee?

It doesn't matter whom the Red Sox play. The Indians were hot when they came to Boston. No problem. Detroit? Atlanta? The Yankees? Surely you jest. The Sox are 21 games over .500 and it is not yet June. They look like a threat to surpass the 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games. At this hour, the '07 Sox make the '27 Yankees look like the '62 Mets (OK, now we're exaggerating).

Naturally, Beckett's return went according to form. After his stint on the disabled list, the big righty came back in Walter Johnson fashion, throwing only 75 pitches while hurling a one-hit shutout over the first six innings. He faced the minimum 18 batters through six.

He threw all of his pitches and had great command. He looked like the best pitcher in the American League -- with the possible exceptions of Curt Schilling and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"It's really a testament to his work ethic," said Francona. "For him to not really skip a beat is pretty phenomenal. He really pitched a heck of a game. He did everything in his power to be the same pitcher he was two weeks ago."

Beckett gave up a couple of runs in the seventh but left with a 4-2 lead after throwing a mere 91 pitches. He gave up only three hits and fanned seven in seven innings. He walked one.

Before the game, Globe photographer Jim Davis snapped a shot of Beckett dipping his finger into a gooey substance on the bench, something Davis said he has seen before.

"That's just stuff from the Band-Aid I was wearing," said Beckett.

Whatever the remedy, it worked. Just like everything works at Fenway this year.

"The finger is something I have to monitor all the time," Beckett said. "I don't know how much time I needed, but I think this was enough. I think we made the smart decision."

Whatever the remedy, it worked. Just like everything works at Fenway this year.

He'll make his next start Sunday night on ESPN against the Yankees. You remember the Yankees. They are the team that paid a prorated $28 million to bring back Roger Clemens so he can pitch Monday in Chicago against the White Sox instead of Sunday against Beckett and the Red Sox. The Yankees are the once-great team with the saggy 21-29 record posted near the bottom of the Green Monster. Springsteen's broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.

If you remember when Mike Dukakis was governor, perhaps you'll resist the urge to gloat and mock the New Yorkers, but that was 29 years ago. It's not going to happen this time. The Red Sox are 36-15. And Josh Beckett is back.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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