Maybe his historic, marathon no-hitter has nothing to do with what's happening to Johan Santana now. Or maybe he and manager Terry Collins are paying the price, just as Collins feared on June 1, for letting the lefty throw 134 pitches to give Mets fans a memorable thrill.

Definitely, though, that doesn't matter now.

The Mets' biggest question today is not how they got here with Santana. It's where they go from here with him, and whether they possibly can salvage this heretofore inspirational season.

The left-hander lasted just three innings, getting shelled for six runs, and the Mets (47-46) wound up losing the Dodgers at Citi Field, 7-6, for their seventh loss in eight games and sixth in seven since the All-Star break.

Santana has a 3-5 record and a ghastly 6.54 ERA in eight starts (totaling 42 2/3 innings) since the no-hitter, and following the game, Collins spoke of "alternatives" and "options," one of which is putting Santana on the disabled list today.

"I've been through a lot," said Santana, who maintained a stoic exterior during his postgame interview. "I'm very happy that I'm able to take the mound every five games after everything I've been through. Every time that I'm out there, I try to do my best, and I enjoy it. It's just that right now, it's not working for me."

There's your problem, your explanation why you can't just shrug this off as a great pitcher hitting a bad stretch. In coming back from significant left shoulder surgery in September 2010 to repair the tear of his anterior capsule, Santana is in unchartered territory. Most pitchers who have undergone this, with Chien-Ming Wang and Mark Prior the biggest names, never reached the heights Santana already has since the start of this season.

That's why Collins was so nervous about letting Santana throw so many pitches for the no-hitter and why he appeared quite concerned after the game.