In the stillness of Olympic Stadium one-half hour after the game tonight, a voiced echoed through the air: "It's too good to be true!"

Undoubtedly, the Phillies couldn't hear him. But for the second straight time, they lost to the Montreal Expos in the National League East playoffs. Tonight it was a 3-1 decision, as Bill Gullickson and Jeff Reardon held the defending world champions to six hits and Gary Carter hit a two-run homer in the third for what turned out to be the winning runs.

The Phillies now face the unenviable task of going home and winning three in a row, beginning with a 4 p.m. game Friday. "It is a distinct possibility," said their manager, Dallas Green. "The probability is a little different."

The Phillies appear to be suffering from terminal malaise, a condition undoubtedly brought on by baseball's split-season psychosis. Green, blunt as ever, put it this way: "When we came back from the strike, we weren't prepared physically or mentally. That's not my fault. That's my players' fault.

"I've used the light bulb reference before. Our guys turn it on when they want to and turn it off when they want to. It's time to turn it on. We haven't been getting the job done."

The Expos have, although they and their manager, Jim Fanning, have been working in mysterious ways. Tonight they got 7 2/3 innings from Guillickson, the winning pitcher, and another save from Reardon.

With two outs in the top of the eighth, Lonnie Smith, who has hit in 25 straight games, doubled into the left field alley to become the first Phillie to reach second base. Pete Rose blooped a single to left, scoring Smith and cutting the margin to 3-1.

Bake McBride lined a double down the right field line that chased Rose to third and Gullickson from the ballgame. The 45,896 fans who gave him a standing ovation for coming to the plate in the seventh rose again in unison.

It appeared the Phillies had begun to realize how tenuous their grasp of the world championship was.

Then Reardon arrived on the scene. Mike Schmidt (zero for six in the series) fouled off the first pitch -- a fast ball -- definitively. Two curve balls missed. Fanning decided, "I didn't want to give him another fast ball to hit."

The intentional walk to Schmidt loaded the bases, put the winning run at first, and, as Schmidt said later, "made him (Fanning) look like a genius."

Guillickson said he had never seen that before; Fanning said he had never done that before. (

Reardon fell behind, 2-1, to Gary Matthews and nearly threw a fit. "I wanted it so bad," he said. "It might have been a little high."

The count went to 2-2. Matthews was lucky to foul off the next pitch, and the next one was outside for a ball.

Matthews finally popped a fast ball foul behind first base for the final out. Confetti poured from the stands.

"Gary Matthews gets paid a lot of money to get a single in that spot," Green said.

"We had to beat Houston two out of three last year," said Schmidt. "That was a much tougher hill to climb than what we're looking at now. We were down three runs to Nolan Ryan in the seventh. We've never made anything easy around here.

"If (starting pitcher) Ray Burris can beat us, more power to him. But they ought to start thinnking about who they're gonna throw in Game Four."

Burris will face Larry Christenson, who came off the disabled list Sept. 19 and hasn't started a game in two months. Asked how he felt about that situation, Green said, "Probably the way you feel."

While the Phillies were struggling against Gullickson, getting only three singles in six innings, the Expos were having an easier time with loser Dick Ruthven.

They went ahead for good in the bottom of the second, when Larry Parrish reached base on a throwing error by third baseman Schmidt. Terry Francona walked, and Chris Speier scored Parrish on a single to right.

In the third, Warren Cromartie (who is hitting .440 for the series and .439 since becoming the leadoff man on Sept. 18) led off with a double into the alley in right. He moved to third on Jerry White's infield out.

Catcher Carter, who is playing with a torn ligament in his left foot, then hit Ruthven's 1-0 pitch into the left field seats for a 3-0 lead.

When the Expos beat the Phillies and their best pitcher, Steve Carlton, on Wednesday, they were calm, almost blase. They said the right things: it's only the first game; lots of things can happen . . .

"I didn't mean to play the win down," Fanning said before tonight's game. "It's an edge. It will be a monumental edge if we win this one."

It is.