It was in a quiet car when the full weight of what had happened finally hit Yennier Cano.

Félix Bautista, Cano’s best friend on the Orioles and his neighbor in Baltimore, always picked the music they listened to as they carpooled to the stadium. But on this day, and likely for many days to come, Cano was on his own.

It was Bautista who welcomed Cano to the Orioles last year, the two hitting it off immediately. They formed a tandem in the bullpen this year, Cano taking on the eighth with Bautista storming in for the ninth. They brought that pairing all the way to Seattle in July, when they experienced their first All-Star game together.

But now, Bautista is on the injured list with an ulnar collateral ligament issue. He was hurt Friday night after hurling a 102.3-mph fastball, the pitch that’s become his signature. But this one didn’t go over smoothly — he pointed his finger right after throwing it, indicating something had gone very wrong.

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Cano watched from the bullpen, helpless and worried as Bautista walked off with trainers.

“I think that was one of the most difficult and sad moments that I’ve gone through in my major league career so far,” Cano said through translator Brandon Quinones. “To see one of my closest friends go down like that is disheartening.”

Yennier Cano embraces catcher Adley Rutschman after pitching a perfect ninth inning Saturday night. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The severity and timeline are not known yet, but it’s clear the Orioles will be without their closer for some time. That means others, most likely Cano, will have to pick up the pieces.

“Honestly, it’ll feel a little weird,” Cano said. “I’ll be expecting the music and the lights to start coming on. It’ll definitely feel weird. He puts on an entire show out there. It’ll feel weird because you know that’s his role and you are expecting him to step in there, but if he’s not able to we’ll try to step in.”

Cano — who has a 1.62 ERA this season — has a deadly sinker, slider and changeup that can get him through the last inning. His velocity has increased this season, his sinker now averaging 96.1 mph. and topping out at 98.4, two mph faster than his hardest-thrown pitch a year ago.

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He’s happy about the results but was initially confused as to why he was suddenly throwing so hard.

“I honestly didn’t know,” he said.

So he went to the strength and conditioning coaches, who told him that was the result of the new regimen they have him on. When he was with the Twins, his focus was on lifting heavy, he said. Now, he still does that, but they’ve zeroed in on mobility and higher repetitions. His focus is on hip and shoulder flexibility. He’ll use wrist weights, for example, to strengthen his arms instead of picking up the heaviest weights possible.

“I think that was one of the most difficult and sad moments that I’ve gone through in my major league career so far. To see one of my closest friends go down like that is disheartening.”

Orioles pitcher Yennier Cano

He fought with the training staff at first — and still does sometimes — but now he’s seeing the fruit of all that labor. And that’ll be even more important as he takes on a bigger role.

On Saturday, with Bautista watching from the dugout, Cano got his first save opportunity since his best friend went down. He entered the game in the top of the ninth, with the Orioles up by one over the Rockies.

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Cano was right — there was no light show and no hype video on the scoreboard as he ran out. But there was a sold-out crowd on its feet, ready to support Cano in this new spot.

“My emotions were a little high,” Cano said. “I just wanted to do my best impression of [Bautista], go out there and complete the job and do whatever he would do.”

He was stalled, temporarily, as umpires forced him to change gloves, stating that there was too much rosin on it. It didn’t stress him out, he said, and, once he got his new glove, he made quick work.

He got through the first two batters easily. With one out to go, Bautista stood and leaned against the railing. Charlie Blackmon lined Cano’s changeup straight to Gunnar Henderson, who snagged the ball for the final out.

Bautista threw his hands in the air and rushed out to congratulate Cano, happy for his friend on a day when his season may have been shattered.

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“It was great to give him the handshake, knowing that we got the job done,” Cano said. “Getting that hug from him was great.”

This may not be the way it’s scripted every game — the Orioles plan to go closer by committee with Danny Coulombe, DL Hall and others getting thrown into the ninth. On this night, though, everyone, including Cano and Bautista, could breathe a sigh of relief. They got a save, without their All-Star closer, and will find a way to keep moving forward, perhaps just like this.

One best friend filling in for another.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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