The Indians took the Series to the brink without several key players, and that bodes well for ending their own drought

It happened so fast, in the end—on a soft ground ball to third by defensive replacement Michael Martinez. Just like that, the Indians not only lost the World Series to the Cubs, but they also gained something: the curse, the hex, the longest championship drought in America's pastime, now 68 years—and counting.

It hurt. Suddenly, all of the Indians' other near misses—in the ALDS in 1999 and 2001, the ALCS in 1998 and 2007, the World Series in 1995 and '97—again came into focus. No miss will hurt more than this one. The players who had carried them so far just didn't have quite enough for one last win. Says manager Terry Francona, "They tried until there was nothing left."

Righthander Corey Kluber, starting on three days' rest for the second straight time, allowed four runs in four-plus innings, and though he had struck out 15 Cubs in his first two outings, in Game 7 he whiffed none. He was gassed. Andrew Miller, the relief ace who went unscored upon during his first eight appearances this postseason, all of them lasting more than one inning, followed Kluber and gave up two runs. He was gassed too. "I feel terrible," Miller said—far more emotionally than physically—in a home clubhouse that had nearly emptied out as the Cubs were still dousing each other with champagne. "I wish I would have performed better. But ultimately, we accomplished a lot. We showed we can beat anybody."

If there was any silver lining it was that the Indians came so close to winning without, arguably, three of their six best players: outfielder Michael Brantley, who was limited this season to just 11 games due to a right shoulder injury; starter Carlos Carrasco, who missed the playoffs with a broken right hand; and starter Danny Salazar, who could work only in relief due to a right forearm strain that occurred in September. They will be back next year—and the year after that. Cleveland's entire rotation, including Carrasco, Kluber and Salazar, is under club control through at least 2018. "As long as you have pitching, you seem like you always have a chance," said Francona before Game 7, perhaps envisioning an October in which he won't, at its end, run out of strings to pull.

"It's all here," says Miller, who doesn't become a free agent until after 2018. "The mentality, the people, the talent, the structure. It's all here." One player who might not be back is first baseman Mike Napoli, 35, who gave the Indians their spirit and rallying cry, which was emblazoned on T-shirts across Cleveland: PARTY AT NAPOLI'S! A possible return is "probably my first priority," Napoli said, "but you know how it is." He joined the cost-conscious Tribe at a discount—one year, $7 million—but after a season in which he slugged 34 homers and drove in 101 runs, he won't come as cheap. "We'll see," he says. "They got a good window with their pitching and the young talent in the lineup."

The Indians tripped on the windowsill in 2016, but the opening remains. If they don't make it through, it won't be because of a curse.