By Ernie Palladino
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For much of the previous five months, the Yanks have played like a horse’s behind. So should it come as any surprise that the animal’s opposite end could be their salvation?

It’s all about baseball karma and the things players do to change it. In this case, the five-game winning streak they had prior to Tuesday night’s game against Detroit could be attributed, at least in part, to the phony (we hope) horse head that reliever Shawn Kelley has been wearing around the clubhouse.

Now, for all of you out there who believe that every occurrence good or bad has a logical reason, don’t get nervous. Nobody’s saying an animal totem has moved the once-dead Yanks to 3 1/2 games of the second Wild Card spot. Then again, nobody’s saying it hasn’t.


But that’s baseball. In the sport’s long and storied history, the number of actions designed to gain favor with the heavenly bodies who govern the events of competition approach that of the real statistical achievements. If things are going bad — as they had been for the Yanks not so long ago — try something new and different, or not so different, to change it. Thus, the practice of wearing hats inside out to induce rallies; the refusal of managers and players alike to step on the foul line; the habit of doing the same thing every day, no matter its grossness.

As the great movie “Bull Durham” emphasized, once things do turn around and the long-awaited streak comes, you respect the heck out of it. If it takes Nuke LaLoosh wearing Annie Savoy’s garters for a bunch of starts in a row, so be it. If it takes Wade Boggs eating chicken for every pregame meal of his career, or protecting his favorite pieces of lumber as if they were bricks of gold in Fort Knox, so be it.

As long as the wins keep coming, go ahead. Keep the same, stinky sanitary whites on every day. Don’t bother changing that sweaty T-shirt. And if it means Kelley traipsing around in a horse head he found online, then so be it. As silly as it may be, rest assured his teammates would kill him right now if he tossed that stupid rubber thing in the trash.

The fact that it coincides with some winning baseball has much to do with it. Since “Seabiscuit,” as Kelley calls it, made the scene, the Yanks have avoided a sweep against the putrid Astros with Brandon McCarthy’s four-hit shutout, won two games in their last at-bat in sweeping the White Sox and put an 8-1 thumping on Kansas City in a makeup game from early June. Unfortunately, there was no magic against the Tigers.

The offense is coming around, and between McCarthy and the hard-throwing Michael Pineda, the pitching has at times been magical.

That may or may not be due to the magic found in silly masks. But who knows? This is baseball, and in baseball everything is possible.

Kelley, who admittedly was just going for the laughs after seeing other such masks in the stands, knew it.

“I figured I’ll do that, and it’ll make everybody laugh in the clubhouse,” he said. “And then we went on a winning streak.”

So did Jacoby Ellsbury, initially a cynic.

“At first, I was wondering who it was,” Ellsbury said. “Then I wondered why he had it on. And then we got on a little roll, and I figured it doesn’t matter what the reason is. We’re winning with it.”

Ellsbury is a big believer now.

“Kelley’s undefeated with the horse,” Ellsbury said before Tuesday’s game. “I’m never going to go against that.”

The horse head will disappear eventually, just as Annie’s garters did once Nuke came back down to Earth. But until the Yankees start playing badly, the horse who masquerades as a Yankees reliever will continue to ride.

It must.

The winning demands it, and it‘s never good business to disrespect the winning.

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