That was until Tom Gordon covered first and missed the throw from Chase Utley at point-blank range. Because Rick Ankiel never stopped running from second base, the Cardinals won, 7-6, when Ankiel crossed home, taking full advantage of Gordon's 10th-inning miscue.
"I got there quick enough," Gordon said. "I was prepared for the play. I was prepared to get over there. I don't know what else happened after that. I didn't see the baseball. That's it."
What amplified how bizarre the play turned out was Ankiel's routine grounder to second base just two batters before. Utley threw wide of Gordon and Ankiel, who said he has never seen two routine plays go wrong like that in an inning, kept the rally alive.
"Not to win the game, no," Ankiel said.
It was the eighth series the Cardinals won when losing the first game, and they did it in extra innings against a red-hot Phils team that blasts the ball, no matter who's on the mound.
"That was a big pick-me-up for our team," manager Tony La Russa said. "It was getting a little lean there."
But the win almost never happened because the Cardinals nearly blew leads of 5-1 and 6-4 in the middle innings.
Up until the fifth, Mitchell Boggs cruised against an offense that includes three batters with more than 15 home runs. To lead off the inning, though, opposing starter Brett Myers singled and Boggs unraveled thereafter.
"Anytime you lead off the inning with a pitcher, that should be an out," Boggs said. "I just left a pitch up that he was able to get a good piece of wood on."
Boggs said he tried to be too perfect with the four-run lead, allowing the Phillies to get back in the game.
Eventually, four runs crossed the plate and Boggs wasn't able to get through the fifth, leaving with two outs and runners at the corners. Kyle McClellan gave up the fourth run on a single but got the Cardinals through the sixth inning unscathed.
After the Cardinals added a run in the sixth, their bullpen almost cruised through the eighth before imploding.
Chris Perez retired the first two batters, but Jimmy Rollins hit a deep fly ball into the right-field corner. Ryan Ludwick made a diving effort, but the ball rolled by him and Rollins stood on third when the dust settled.
"Perez, I thought, did a really good job," La Russa said. "He's got two outs and nobody on and [gives up] a perfectly hit fly ball down the right-field line."
With already 1 2/3 innings under Perez's belt, La Russa kept him in to face Jayson Werth, who drew a walk. Southpaw Randy Flores came in with plans of retiring the left-handed-hitting Utley and possibly Ryan Howard if Utley got on base.
Utley walked, the second of four consecutive walks for the Cardinals, and Flores walked Howard, which brought home Rollins. He only recorded one strike on each batter.
La Russa opted to make a pitching change, bringing in Russ Springer to face Pat Burrell. On a 3-1 count, Springer threw it way outside and gave a free pass to Burrell, forcing in the tying run. Springer then struck out Geoff Jenkins to retire the side.
In the ninth, Ryan Franklin gave up a leadoff hit to Greg Dobbs. Eric Bruntlett pinch-ran for Dobbs -- who had advanced to second on a sacrifice -- and made a costly error when he only got to third base on Shane Victorino's single.
Then Rollins hit into a fielder's choice to Duncan, who fired home to Molina. If it wasn't for Molina's tag on Bruntlett, then the bullpen could not have only cost the lead, but also the game.
Molina, however, paid the price and had to be carted off the field and sent to the hospital after sustaining a mild concussion.
Entering the game, Skip Schumaker was batting .415 in his previous 13 games and continued to succeed at the plate, belting his fourth home run of the year to open the third. After Aaron Miles singled, Troy Glaus hit a two-out home run to give the Cardinals a 5-1 lead.
The Cards remained 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs, who beat the Blue Jays, 7-4, in Toronto.
Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.