Williams rose through the Philadelphia Phillies‘ system as a starter, dominating Scranton (Triple-A) in 1992 and ’93, but was called up for brief stints out of the bullpen once reliever Larry Andersen hit the disabled list. After being promoted to the starting rotation in 1996, he notched a grotesque 6-14 record with a 5.44 ERA, and wasn’t offered an extension by the club in the offseason.
After one year with the Kansas City Royals, Williams migrated to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent in 1998. Having rediscovered his slider, the middle reliever posted a 4-2 record and 1.94 ERA, impressing manager Gene Lamont enough to transfer the closer’s job from Rich Loiselle. Though Williams started off strong as the stopper in 1999, a bout with biceps tendinitis hurt his pitching motion for the second half of the year, and as his ERA rose from 2.22 in early August to 5.09 at the end of the season, Jose Silva became the new closer.
After winning back the job and notching 24 saves in 2000, Williams was on his way to breaking that career high the following year with 22 in late July 2001. But when the trade deadline approached, the Houston Astros, looking for strong relievers for their playoff run, traded young hurler Tony McKnight to the Bucs in exchange for Williams’ service. He left the club ranking third on their all-time saves list with 69 behind Kent Tekulve and Dave Giusti.