BOSTON -- If any team appreciates the beauty of the Wild Card, it's the Red Sox.

History shows that Boston took full advantage of the American League's fourth and final playoff spot back in 2004, when it captured its first World Series title in 86 years. The Red Sox have used the Wild Card entry to reach the postseason a Major League-high six times since 1998, and are in line to do so once again this year.

After taking the first two bouts of their three-game set against the Angels, the Sox enter Thursday's series finale at Fenway Park 6 1/2 games ahead of the fading Rangers in the AL Wild Card standings. But make no mistake, they aren't ready to don their Wild Card championship hats and T-shirts just yet.

With 18 games remaining on its regular-season slate, Boston is focused on finishing 2009 with a flourish. When the dust settles, the Red Sox will gladly accept any playoff berth they're awarded -- be it the Wild Card, or perhaps, an AL East title.

"We just go out and play baseball," said corner infielder Kevin Youkilis, who could return to the lineup Thursday after missing the past two games with back spasms. "Our big thing is just trying to win games from here on out, trying to get hot and take it into the postseason. It doesn't matter if we win the East or the Wild Card. Just getting in the playoffs is our goal."

Though catching the Yankees -- who currently own a 6 1/2-game division lead over the Red Sox -- remains a possibility for Boston, it is far from the club's end-all objective.

"I haven't really thought about it, me personally," Youkilis said. "I don't know what guys around here think. We don't talk about it. It would be great to win the East, but at the same time, we're just looking to win each series from here on out and get to the postseason."

Winners of their past seven games, the pitching-rich Red Sox have cause to feel confident about their chances in October -- regardless of where they're seeded.

"We're playing well," Youkilis said. "Daisuke [Matsuzaka] pitched well [Tuesday], which is a huge thing for us right now, trying to get another starter. The depth of starters is huge. If we can have a lot of depth, that would be big for us.

"It's all about pitching. If we pitch well, we'll be fine. Even in the postseason, that's what it's all about -- pitching. If we pitch from here on out, have good starts, and our bullpen throws well, we'll be in good shape."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (15-6, 3.82 ERA)
Beckett hurled five innings of one-run ball last Saturday in a complete-game rain-shortened victory over the Rays at Fenway Park. The 29-year-old right-hander, who had not won since Aug. 12, improved to 9-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 14 home starts this season. In seven lifetime appearances against the Angels, Boston's ace is 2-3 with a 4.26 ERA.

LAA: RHP Ervin Santana (7-8, 5.52 ERA)
Santana pitched well last Saturday in a no-decision against the White Sox at Angel Stadium, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits over seven innings. The 26-year-old right-hander yielded two solo home runs, including an inside-the-parker to Scott Podsednik. In five career starts against the Red Sox, Santana is 1-2 with a 5.67 ERA.

Tidbits
Boston starters have allowed three runs or fewer in nine consecutive games, going 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA over that span. ... With Wednesday's outing, reliever Takashi Saito became the fifth Red Sox pitcher to make at least 50 appearances this season, joining Hideki Okajima (64), Ramon Ramirez (62), Jonathan Papelbon (61) and Manny Delcarmen (58). ... Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is batting .333 (20-for-60) with 11 RBIs in his past 18 contests.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
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•  Official game notes

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On radio
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Up next
• Friday: Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 5-3, 3.66) at Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 10-14, 5.06), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 13-7, 3.29) at Orioles (David Hernandez, 4-8, 5.40), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2-5, 7.02) at Orioles (Jason Berken, 5-11, 6.08), 1:35 p.m. ET