Alejandro Pena limited Atlanta to three hits over the first seven innings and put Los Angeles ahead to stay with a two-out, two-run single in the second inning as the Dodgers defeated the Braves, 3-2, last night at Dodger Stadium.

The victory in the opener of a three-game series extended the first-place Dodgers' lead over the Braves to three games in the West Division. The Dodgers won their 21st in 30 games and their ninth over Atlanta in 13 games this season. Los Angeles has beaten the Braves in 19 of 26 games over the past two years.

Pena (11-6) walked two and struck out six. He gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the second by hitting a 1-1 pitch off loser Phil Niekro (10-8) up the middle with two outs and the bases loaded. Niekro had walked the bases full.

Pena left with a 3-0 lead after walking Brett Butler, the first batter in the Atlanta eighth. Tom Niedenfuer finished the eighth, then yielded Dale Murphy's 31st home run, on the first pitch of the ninth inning.

The Braves scored again in the inning when Bob Watson singled in Chris Chambliss, but Butler was retired on a grounder to Howe, who earned his 18th save.