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04/17/08 7:47 PM ET

Beltran out of lineup with stiff neck

Center fielder's absence first change to outfield alignment

NEW YORK -- Amid the mound of minutia this baseball season will produce was the distinction that developed Wednesday night, when Carlos Beltran started in center field flanked by Ryan Church on his left and Angel Pagan on his right. The three had started each game in the same alignment, and only the Braves -- left to right: Matt Diaz, Mark Kotsay and Jeff Francoeur -- had started in the same outfield alignment.

Arcane and all but meaningless, it was a distinction, one that now belongs to only the Braves, as Beltran didn't start Thursday night. The Mets' center fielder was absent from the lineup because of a stiff neck. Pagan was the center fielder when the Mets began the final game of their three-game series against the Nationals. Brady Clark replaced Pagan in left, and the Mets had their seventh batting order in 14 games.

Beltran, who hit his first home run of the season Wednesday night, said the stiffness developed then. He expected to play "as soon as it's not stiff." Sounded logical.

Clark appeared in 12 games with the Mets in 2002 and started one, in right field.

More minutia.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.