Johan Santana gets the Reyes treatment

Johan Santana completes a no-hitter. (SNY )
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You could field a really good baseball team made up exclusively of players the Mets have criticized in the media for not returning fast enough from injury.

There was Jose Reyes, who the Mets decided should come back late in 2009 to play in a meaningless final weekend series. When he objected, a whisper campaign from management led to a teary Reyes news conference. Oh, and a ramped-up comeback attempt followed, complete with tear that then required surgery.

When the Mets were unhappy with Carlos Beltran's decision to follow a third doctor opinion recommending surgery, they held a conference call to blast Beltran for the decision. (Beltran's post-surgery production only reinforces it was the right move for him.)

When they didn't like David Wright's concern about playing with an injured thumb, they leaked to the Daily News, as he made his decision, a reluctance to offer Wright a long-term deal because he might be "injury-prone." 

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Now it is Johan Santana's turn.

On Saturday, general manager Sandy Alderson described it as "self-evident" that Santana, the team's highest-paid player from a contract signed in the era just before ownership's involvement with Bernie Madoff was discovered, hadn't arrived in camp in pitching shape. And those nameless "club officials" that always seem to be around when the Mets might get blamed for something "have wondered aloud why Santana did not do more before spring training to strengthen his shoulder."

There's so much that is strange about this story. By going quasi-public with intimations that Santana was somehow to blame for following the very plan recommended by doctors, according to Alderson himself last August, the Mets took what should have been an anodyne story about a 34-year-old pitcher with multiple recent surgeries attempting to come back, and turned it into a story with a villain. 

Santana has responded by largely boyotting reporter questions, which is the equivalent of receiving an upsetting text message and getting angry at Verizon.

Most disquieting is the suspicion, shared by both a friend of Santana and the Mets themselves, that the stories about Santana motivated him to return to the mound and throw earlier than he'd planned to.

A pitcher trying to do right by his body, who'd previously been more committed to the significant objectives of pitching well for the 2013 season, not just making a symbolic opening day start, and resurrecting a career, was exactly what the Mets should have supported.

Instead, those criticisms are all it took to get the same Santana who threw an ill-advised bullpen session in an attempt to pitch through a torn anterior capsule in his shoulder in 2010, the way he pitched with bone chips in his elbow in 2009 and a torn meniscus in his knee in 2008. He tried to do the same thing with an ankle injury in 2012, with disastrous consequences on the field.

In all cases, the Mets failed to protect Santana from himself, and much of their six-year, $137.5 million investment was the ultimate casualty, with Santana missing all of 2011, while 2012 ended early.

Why exactly the Mets haven't learned from both their mistakes and the wisdom of many (not all, but most) other teams, who protect their star players with both public media cover and are more concerned with long-term recoveries than quick comebacks, is impossible to know. But there's nothing new about it; this phenomenon goes back to Mike Piazza, who wrote in his new book that Jeff Wilpon once asked him to play, injured, in a spring training game because it was a sellout.

According to Newsday's David Lennon, just writing this in his book could be enough to keep Piazza out of the Mets Hall of Fame.

Elsewhere in New York sports:

KNICKS

Carmelo Anthony couldn't beat LeBron James by himself, and his supporting cast simply stopped making shots in a 99-93 loss Sunday.

NETS

P.J. Carlesimo is getting his rotation playoff-ready, and that likely means smaller.

RED BULLS

An entertaining season opener in Portland ended in a 3-3 tie Sunday night.

ST. JOHN'S

Suspended guard D'Angelo Harrison will stay in school, and attempt to return to the team next season.