The Montreal Expos returned the National League East to its usual feeling of togetherness tonight, as Terry Francona's bat and some good pitching by Bill Gullickson and Bob James cooled off the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1.

The turnabout, following the Phillies' doubleheader sweep Wednesday, dropped them into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh, one-half game in front of Montreal. The Expos go to Pittsburgh Friday for a three-game series, while the Phillies entertain St. Louis, which is 2 1/2 games back.

"It was important for us," said Montreal Manager Bill Virdon. "Must game, no--we've got 17 to go, but important."

The big man for Montreal was the 6-4, 280-pound James, who was sent to Detroit a year ago for "a player to be named later" and became that player himself in one of baseball's weirder trades.

James relieved Gullickson with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth and struck out nonswinging Len Matuszek, who homered earlier for Philadelphia's run. James struck out two more in a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

"I knew Matuszek from the minors and in the minor leagues I had a reputation for being a little wild, so I guess that's why he waited me out," James said. "The first two were fast balls, down the middle and on the outside corner. Then I threw two curves that just fooled him. The first was close and the second was it.

"I know now I can go out there and throw strikes. Better control has been mostly a matter of experience. I hurt my arm in '80, then '81 was a rehabilitation year. Since then, I've been getting the ball over and gaining confidence."

Virdon chose James over his usual bullpen ace, Jeff Reardon, who was also warming up, and he signalled for the bulky James by spreading his arms wide.

"He can put on a mask and make faces at me if he wants, just so he calls me in," James said.

Gullickson permitted three hits in the first seven innings before running into trouble in the eighth. Greg Gross singled and was erased when Ozzie Virgil grounded into a double play. But Ivan DeJesus doubled, pinch hitter Pete Rose beat out a check-swing grounder for hit No. 3,983 and Joe Morgan walked on a 3-2 pitch to set up the James-Matuszek confrontation.

Gullickson (15-11) gave Virdon cause for concern in the second inning when Joe Lefebvre's grounder struck him in the pitching hand. After gritting his teeth and shaking the hand Gullickson was able to continue.

"It hit the left side of my thumb and the thumb tightened up a little," Gullickson said. "I put ice on it between innings and it was okay."

There was no chance to ice it in the eighth, however, because Gullickson doubled and stayed on the bases. That might have contributed to his difficulties, since he had retired the previous 12 batters.

Kevin Gross was the loser, largely victimized by Francona, who had a homer, double and single.

The first Montreal run, in the third, was a typical Tim Raines production. Raines singled, stole his 72nd base, moved to third on Manny Trillo's right-side grounder and scored on a wild pitch.

The Francona and Matuszek homers offset each other in the fourth. Montreal concluded the scoring in the fifth on Trillo's single, Al Oliver's second straight opposite-field double, Tim Wallach's sacrifice fly and Francona's double inside first base.

Besides the scare over Gullickson, there was concern in the sixth when Andre Dawson, the Expos' 106-RBI man, was hit in the right hand by a pitch from Gross.

"I was a little concerned both ways, but we didn't need either one," Virdon said. He was smiling, sort of.