The Phillies will use the final 32 games to find solutions, and they must know every revelation cannot be franchise-altering. A team on pace for 90 losses will improve in slow (sometimes painful) increments. That elevates a 32-year-old waiver claim with three quality starts against three contenders to exalted status.
This summer, two of the worst teams in baseball jettisoned Jerome Williams. He has carved a successful home in the Phillies rotation, with eight more innings in a 7-1 win over St. Louis as the latest evidence. Williams has a 1.77 ERA in three starts with the Phillies.
"However it plays out, it plays out," Williams said. "I've been through a lot of stuff in my career, so I know what happens. If I force the issue and keep doing what I'm doing, who knows what will happen?"
It is the first time in Williams' career that he threw consecutive starts of at least seven innings with one or fewer runs in the same season. The former top prospect - once rated 19th best by Baseball America before the 2001 season - had a 6.71 ERA in 28 games with Houston and Texas until the Phillies claimed him.
The Phillies won consecutive series for the first time since late April. Consider Williams' three-start renaissance as one of the season's brightest developments; just another alarming commentary on the current state.
But the Phillies have missed in recent seasons on identifying reclamation projects. Some of the game's best comeback stories - Ryan Vogelsong, Jason Grilli and Brandon Moss - languished in the Phillies' minor-league system and did not thrive until another team offered a better opportunity. They whiffed last season on one-year projects Delmon Young and John Lannan.
There is an absence of suitable options for the 2015 rotation beyond Cole Hamels. (An injured Cliff Lee is an unknown, while rookie David Buchanan could occupy one spot.) Williams, a free agent at season's end, could win favor with five more competent weeks.
The Phillies took interest in Williams' services last winter before signing Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $4.5 million deal. Williams went to Houston as a reliever for $2.1 million.
"He's hitting his spots," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's a command guy. He mixes his speeds as he goes through the lineups.
"He can do a lot of things well right now. He's making a good showing for himself. He could be [an option for next year]. We'll have some time to watch. He's had three outstanding games for us."
No, Williams may not be a member of the next great Phillies team. But this is how mediocre teams survive. They find bargains that plug holes until better options present themselves.
Williams threw 110 pitches Sunday. The lone run he conceded was preventable; Ben Revere took a bad route to Jhonny Peralta's fourth-inning fly ball. It landed as a double. Peralta scored two batters later on an Oscar Taveras single.
The Phillies supported Williams with five runs in the first three innings. Even Williams notched an RBI with a safety squeeze bunt. For once, this group resembled a capable baseball team in every facet of the game.
Jimmy Rollins added icing in the seventh with a two-run homer, his 16th of the season, to make it 7-1.
Williams disputed the notion of having to prove something after two bad teams disposed of him. He could, in an odd twist, become a commodity.
"I'm trying to pitch well," Williams said. "I'm thinking about this season right now. You don't want that sour taste in your mouth at the end of the season. You want to finish strong."
When the eighth inning concluded, Williams strolled from the mound to the dugout with a smile. He pounded his right hand into his pink glove. He looked to the sky and pointed. He was grateful for a job, a trait these Phillies have sometimes lacked.
BY THE NUMBERS
Ben Revere's batting average.
Times he has walked all season.
Consecutive plate appearances without a walk before Revere drew one on Sunday.