Mets manager Terry Collins asked Jason Bay if it mattered to him where he would be hitting in the batting order. To the veteran outfielder, it didn't matter.

"You don't have to tell me where you're hitting me," Bay said yesterday. "Just put me out there."

Thus, Bay unceremoniously returned to the Mets lineup last night after a 42-game absence with a broken rib, batting in the eighth spot in the Mets' 9-1 loss to the Yankees in the Subway Series opener. Bay, in the third season of his four-year, $66 million deal, went 0-for-3, lowering his average to .226.

Before last night, Bay had never hit eighth in his major league career. Though it wasn't as glaring as the $252 million Alex Rodriguez hitting eighth in a 2006 Yankees playoff game, it was still pretty surprising.

Collins' reasoning for the move was Bay hadn't had many at-bats — he had been out since April 23 and had just nine at-bats in three minor-league rehab games — and Collins thought batting eighth could be comfortable for him. Also, Collins said he wanted hitters such as Lucas Duda (fourth) and Scott Hairston (sixth) hitting in the middle of the order.

So this tells you where the Mets are with Bay — he's batting one spot higher than Omar Quintanilla. That's something to keep in mind considering soon enough, the Mets will have a logjam in the outfield consisting of Duda, Bay, Hairston, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Andres Torres. If Bay doesn't produce, he could be in trouble.